Thrust Statement: One who receives grace cannot be intolerant or arrogant toward the ungodly.
Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-32
This particular parable is one of the best-known parables found in the New Covenant writings. This parable generally focuses on one of the two sons, not both. Many know this parable by the title—The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Perhaps a better title for this parable would be The Parable of the Two Sons, not the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The NIV titles this parable as The Parable of the Lost Son. One could also name this parable as The Parable of the Loving Father. Since there is another Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32), this author has chosen the title: “The Parable of the Prodigal Son and Loving Father.” Each of the above titles captures various aspects of this insightful story.
Just an off-the-cuff glance of this moving parable still reveals that this parable is the climax of the two preceding parables about the lost sheep (15:3-7) and the lost coin (15:8-10). The first two parables in Luke 15 depict the initiative of God in seeking the lost, yet, on the other hand, the final parable in this scenario of Jesus’ confrontation with the religious leaders centers on the activities of the wayward son—his repentance. Just a laid-back reading of The Parable of the Two Sons and Loving Father discloses this story as the wrapping up and, at the same time, the high point of the two preceding parables.
The introductory remarks of Luke to these three parables make known the intent of Jesus’ ministry. As stated above, Jesus sets forth these parables in order to justify His own work of redemption for a lost humanity. Jesus, in this trinity of parables, explains to the religious leaders His actions in reaching out to the outcast. He lets them know that this is how God acts toward the lost. It is in Jesus that God works. Jesus’ love is God’s love; Jesus’ forgiveness is God’s forgiveness. In these stories, one witnesses God’s love for the dregs of humanity. Even though the pious reject the so-called scum of the earth, nevertheless, one witnesses God’s own acceptance of the down-and-out. All three of these stories are about Jesus’ outreach to sinners—the ostracized and hated by the religious leaders.
Although these parables were spoken as a rebuke to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, yet, one is immediately conscious that these parables still speak to the people of God today in their every-day walk with Him. In other words, these parables are meant for everyone in his or her relationships to other people. These three parables rebuke pious exclusiveness, that is to say, it condemns boasting about what one is and about what others are lacking. Following these parables, Jesus launches a series of parables against the religious leaders for their rejection of Him as their Messiah and for their smug attitude of holier-than-thou behavior. One such parable is The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, which illustrates this self-righteous attitude toward others (Luke 18:9-14). The pious sins of the so-called righteous come in various masks, but the real meaning of self-righteousness remains identical in spite of the various disguises individuals employ to camouflage their internal or external behavior.
Christians should examine themselves to see if their outlook is the same as that of the religious leaders concerning sinners. This godlessness of “surface piety” is severely censured by Jesus. Jesus revolts against the unloving and unrepenting ways of the leaders of Israel. Shortly before His trial and crucifixion, Jesus issues a scathing warning against the “the chief priest and the elders of the people” (Matthew 21:23): “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (21:31). For a third time, these parables in Luke 15 are told by Jesus in order to justify His own work of redemption for a lost humanity. Earlier, Jesus explains His actions to criticizing Pharisees and teachers of the Law: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32).”
THE PARABLES OF THE LOST SHEEP AND THE LOST COIN
These two parables, as well as the third, in Luke 15 deal with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law—individuals who rejected Jesus’ Messiahship and His salvation for the down-and-out. Listen to Luke as he introduces these parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:1-2). Then Luke adds the following words: “ Then Jesus told them this parable” (15:3). Pay attention to the two parables leading up to the climax of third parable. In the first parable Jesus says:
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (15:4-7).
In this parable of the lost sheep, Jesus impresses upon His hearers the amazing love of God, its scale, and its scope. Jesus reveals the activity of God in reaching out to sinners. This parable portrays God taking immeasurable effort in order to find one who is lost and rescue him or her from condemnation. Just as the shepherd rejoices with the recovery of his lost sheep, so God rejoices over one who is found. But this rejoicing extends not only to God but also to the heavenly host. When one soul is saved, God rejoices. Jesus speaks this parable in order to meet head-on the murmurings of the pious leaders. In other words, Jesus seeks to deal with the unjustified murmurings of the religious leaders for God’s mercy to the outcast. Even though repentance is not applicable to sheep and coins, nevertheless, Jesus draws attention to the point of His parable, that is to say, God’s acceptance of the wayward through repentance.
Jesus, in these two parables, explains His actions in reaching out to sinners. Lloyd-Jones summarizes succinctly the thrust of the first two parables this way: “The first two parables are designed to impress upon us the love of God as an activity which seeks out, the sinner, that takes infinite trouble in order to find him and rescue him, and to show the joy of God and all the host of heaven when even one soul is saved.” In these two parables, Jesus calls attention to repentance on the part of the wayward person. But before repentance, He calls attention to God’s activity in seeking the undesirables. In both parables, one observes that the central thought centers on search and joy. One cannot read these two parables without a consciousness that God searches and finds sinners. Both parables call individuals to repentance as a way to God. For Jesus, the way to God is through repentance and belief of the Gospel (Mark 1:15).
In God’s search for the lost, His arms are open to anyone who seeks Him on His terms—repentance and belief in His Son Jesus. These two parables are followed by the parable of the loving and forgiving father. All three parables show heaven’s view of the repentant sinner. These parables still emphasize the necessity of Christ’s disciples seeking the lost. Seeking the lost is the very heart of every disciple’s activity (2 Corinthians 5:19). In the second parable, one witnesses God’s activity of seeking the lost. Pay attention once more as Luke reports the words of Jesus:
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coinsa and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (15:8-10).
In this parable, one is immediately aware of how God works. By this story, Jesus makes obvious His love for the unlovable. Just a laid-back reading of this parable reveals God’s love and Jesus’ love. Also, one is mindful that this parable displays God’s forgiveness as well as Jesus’ forgiveness. The religious leaders reject those whom God acknowledges. Even though this parable does not mention Jesus by name, nevertheless, one is consciously aware that this story is concerned with Jesus and His ministry. It is in Jesus that one sees God’s love—love manifested in the life and activity of Jesus. Jesus lets the leaders of Israel know that His acceptance of the down-and-out is also God’s acceptance. Jesus began His ministry with a call to repentance: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). Even John the Baptist began His ministry with a call to repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (3:2).
The focus of this parable is that there is hope for all. God’s love extends to every individual. Neither of these two parables represents a complete outline of the whole truth of Christianity. The first part of each parable focuses on God’s activity, but then Jesus concludes each parable with repentance as the way of acceptance and reception of God’s act of mercy and grace and forgiveness. The third parable’s spotlight is on the mindset of the lost son—repentance. The key to understanding of all three parables is found in Luke’s comments leading to the stories: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (15:1-2).
The first two parables stress God’s action; nevertheless, Jesus still associates these two parables with those who repent—tax collectors and sinners. When one repents, there is joy in heaven. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were horrified at such teaching. These leaders of Israel considered Jesus a blasphemer. Once more, listen to Luke as he captures conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders concerning forgiveness toward the outcast:
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,a and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:36-50).
Within this episode, Jesus lets the Pharisee know that one can start all over again. With God, there is always a new beginning, even for the most hopeless. The Gospel is the only optimistic view of life. The Gospel is Good News that God makes salvation available by faith in His Son Jesus. Jesus speaks of this Gospel to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,f that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus reveals to Nicodemus that forgiveness is not cheap and easy. This forgiveness requires nothing less than the total self-offering of the Savior Himself to God as a mercy seat for salvation for lost humanity. This truly is Good News. Paul expresses the Gospel this way:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).
This view of life attracted the down-and-out. Is it any wonder that the tax collectors and sinners flocked to hear this message of salvation by faith. Jesus went against the grain of the Jews as well as that of the Greeks—salvation by faith. Jesus taught the possibility of a new start and a new beginning. Paul expresses this so-great salvation this way:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sina for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
These two parables (Lost Sheep and Lost Coin) explain why Jesus associated Himself with sinners. Jesus refusal to reject interaction with the unrighteous created great tension between Himself and the religious leaders. Jesus did not condone the sinner’s lifestyle, but, at the same time, He recognized his or her need of salvation. It is in this same vein that Jesus’ disciples should reflect the heart of God as displayed in all three parables. People are still to hear the message of repentance and to reflect God’s forgiveness in dealing with the down-and-out. God’s work continues in His disciples as they show concern for the lost.
THE PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS
Just as in the two preceding parables, God is still seeking the lost. In this third parable, God’s activity stands out like neon lights flashing on a billboard. The parable of the two sons in this trilogy develops the Father’s love for the return of His children. Jesus illustrates God’s mercy and His offer of forgiveness with a new beginning. All three parables emphasize that God is not pleased with the loss of one person. This is not something new with God. Even when the Kingdom of Judah was taken into captivity, God desired that the wicked turn from their ways and live. God spoke through Ezekiel (593 BC) the message of repentance, a repentance resulting in change of behavior:
“Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because ofb them. How then can we live?”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:10-11).
Through repentance God allows a new chance. Paul, approximately seven hundred years after Ezekiel, tell the Athenians that “God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Prior to this incident, Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, proclaimed that Jesus is God’s way of salvation. Upon hearing this news, the Jews requested of Peter as what to do to be saved (2:37). Peter responded by saying: “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38). Shortly after this outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, Peter addresses another crowd for their participation in the killing of Jesus. On this occasion, Peter again calls for repentance:
Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christa would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus (3:17-20).
James Montgomery Boice is on target when he writes that the nature of recovery: “is never apart from the repentance and conversion of the rebellious prodigal. I believe it is chiefly to make that point that Jesus told the third parable.” This parable stresses the possibility of a clean start and another opportunity. These religious leaders to whom this parable was directed regarded the tax collectors and sinners beyond hope and redemption. If these leaders had reflected upon the Book of Jonah (782 BC) and Ezekiel, they would have known that repentance is the way back to God. In this parable, one is ushered into the presence of God’s amazing love. Even though the lost son had touched the bottom, yet, one witnesses a brand new beginning with repentance and the father’s love. This story depicts a son who left his father’s home and squandered his inheritance through riotous living. In this revealing story, Jesus paints a graphic picture of the utter degradation that the young man had fallen into:
Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything (Luke 15:13-16).
“Squandered his wealth in wild living” conjures up a life lived in total dismissal of God. Is your life like this life of depravity? Is there hope for the immoral? Is there hopefulness for the drunkard? Is there faith for the drug addict? Is there optimism for the prostitute? Yes! Jesus gives a picture of an individual who is completely hopeless, wholly despondent, and totally down-in-the-mouth. This person was flat broke and deserted. He had reached the bottom of the pit. The thrust of this part of the parable is that there is a chance of a “spanking new foundation.” It is in this regard that Lloyd-Jones captures the essence of this third parable: “The first truth it proclaims is the possibility of a new beginning, the possibility of a new start, a new opportunity, another chance.” As you read this third parable, do you identify yourself with this lost son? If so, the way back to God is through repentance and belief in His Son Jesus Christ for redemption. God offers everyone a fresh beginning (Mark 1:15).
Darrell L. Bock, too, rightly comments on this parable: “The way to God is through repentance. God’s arms are open to the person who will seek him on his terms. God’s arms close around the child ready to run to him and receive what he offers.” This “new start” through repentance is what the Gospel of Christ is all about. As stated earlier, both John and Jesus began their ministries with a call to repentance. This is what the Gospel is about—a new opening through repentance and faith in Jesus. When the religious leaders came out to hear John the Baptist, he spoke in stern words concerning their behavior: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). Are you producing fruit in keeping with your repentance? Is your behavior the same as it was before repentance? Repentance is more than just feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, regret, and self-reproach; it represents change in internal and external behavior.
When one repents and believes the Gospel, one must produce “fruit in keeping with repentance.” One cannot go on living the same disreputable lifestyle indicative of one’s immoral behavior before conversion. This change in performance, or conduct, is what Paul also proclaimed in all his missionary journeys. He sets forth the idea that repentance, on the part of every believer, demands change, or modification, of one’s external behavior. Pay attention to Paul as he speaks to King Agrippa about his message of salvation proclaimed in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea, and to Gentiles: “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20-21).
Does your lifestyle establish your repentance? If not, then you should altar your performance just as the prodigal son did (Luke 5:17-19). Redemption in Christ demands a certain kind of performance (Titus 2:12). God’s written Word is guidance for holy living. Even though everyone has fallen short of God’s glory, one finds comfort in Jesus. Do you still feel hopeless? Do you even now feel that you are so far from God that there is no possibility of forgiveness? Are you a drunkard? Are you a drug addict? Are you a prostitute? What is the answer for your present condemnation? The answer is Jesus, who is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). One must act upon the Good News of God if one expects salvation. One’s acceptance of God’s grace requires repentance, or regret, which results in changed behavior. Again, Lloyd-Jones writes with insight: “If you merely sit there and listen and allow yourselves to be moved in general by the glowing picture of the Gospel you will go home exactly as you were when you came.” Since God is a personal reality and stands in a peculiar, profound, and inescapable relationship to every individual, then God can make an absolute claim upon one’s whole being. Many individuals have rejected this claim of God upon themselves. When one rejects God’s claim upon himself or herself, this one puts himself or herself upon the throne of God. In other words, this person becomes his or her own God. The way back to God is repentance and belief of the Gospel.
If one is willing to ask forgiveness, God offers a new start through the Gospel. Remember, Jesus tells these three parables to illustrate God’s love and mercy and forgiveness. This love of God is exhibited in and through Jesus. Paul calls attention to this love to the Romans: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is the Gospel. Jesus came not only preaching the Gospel, but He Himself is the Gospel. It is in the Gospel that one sees God’s wisdom—a wisdom resulting in salvation for sinful humanity. This salvation is not based on human works, but rather on the finished work of Christ upon the Cross. Paul captures this wisdom of God in his first correspondence with the Corinthians: “It is because of him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’”b (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
Since one cannot earn his or her salvation, one sees the wisdom of God in that He makes Jesus one’s righteousness, one’s holiness, and one’s redemption. Is it any wonder that Paul shouts, as it were, concerning the Good News of God:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,a just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”b (Romans 1:16-17).
This new beginning begins with faith in Jesus, not works. One can only find his or her wholeness in Christ. It is either Jesus or nothing. Jesus did not come as a grand spiritual personality, but rather as the Redeemer of sinful humanity. P. T. Forsyth correctly states: “The cross is either the life of our religion, or it is the death of our religion.” This fresh start is offered to men and women based on the finished work of Christ upon Calvary. The story of the prodigal son is a story in which hope is extended to everyone who has reached the bottom—God’s mercy and forgiveness available in and through Jesus. In Jesus, one finds freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.
Christian freedom is freedom to serve Christ. If one is free from God, one becomes his or her own master. One may then do as one pleases. Yet, this kind of freedom—freedom from God—leads one astray. Christians must constantly pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). When one seeks his or her own way, one experiences a rupture, a separation, or alienation from God. The one who turns to his or her own way discovers that there is “inner disintegration, then outer misery, and finally total ruin, the abyss.”
It is not uncommon for individuals to confess Christ, but, at the same time, refuse to commit their lives to Jesus as Lord. Many baptized believers continue to participate in their former way of life, a life of rebellion against the teachings of God. If you wish God to extend His mercy to you, you must step down from you earlier life of revolt and repent and believe the Gospel—God’s way of salvation in and through Christ by faith (Mark 1:15). When one turns from one’s sins, this point is not reached by simply feeling sorry for one’s transgressions, a regret of one’s sins or a nebulous feeling of hopelessness and insignificance.
When one professes faith in Jesus, but at the same time, he or she experiences no substantial change in one’s behavior or activities, then one must doubt the genuineness of such faith, or belief. With Jesus, repentance and belief are closely bound together. Repentance plays a major role in the ministry of Paul. Listen in on Paul as he explains his preaching to the Ephesians:
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus (Acts 20: 20-21).
When one repents, this means that one receives Jesus into one’s life, and, at the same time, one commits his or her life completely to Him. Is there hope for the wayward sinner? Yes, there is hope through repentance and belief in the Gospel. In repentance, one recognizes the necessity of punishment. Repentance means openness to the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel is about justification of the sinner. In justification, one is conscious that Christ takes one’s place and one takes His. In the Gospel one witnesses a real movement from God to the sinner—His forgiveness. In the Gospel one views a breaking through God’s wrath; forgiveness is the essence of the Gospel. In the Gospel, God descends and runs after men and women. It is only in the Cross of Jesus that one observes the blending of God’s absolute holiness and His absolute mercy—both are revealed together in Calvary. In the Cross of the Messiah, Law and love are brought together.
The religious leaders did not want to extend mercy to the down-and-out, especially the tax collectors and sinners. Yet, Jesus in this parable focuses on the love of the father for the return of his son who was lost—one who took action, not just the bemoaning of his sins. There is hope for the penitent. In this parable, Jesus uses the other son to call attention to the hardheartedness of the religious leaders. The elder son stands as a symbol of the pious Pharisees. Many Christians today assume the same pious attitude toward the sinner. Christians need to stop “sitting in court over against other people.” Do you say as the Pharisee said in his prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12).
This parable is a homecoming parable for the returning son or daughter. The father in this parable listens to his son’s anger (15:28). The elder brother did not extend forgiveness to the sinning brother. This is the same attitude that Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law—pious godlessness. This parable is a blow to the unloving and unrepenting ways of the religious leaders. Shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion, He drove home the disastrous effects of self-righteousness: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). This parable rebukes pious godlessness in the lives of men and women. One purpose of this parable, so it seems, is to call everyone to repentance, which includes the so-called pious leaders. This parable portrays the infinite and incomprehensible love of God toward all individuals, which is something the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law could not fathom. Christians, today, should proclaim God’s immeasurable and incalculable love for humanity. One should never boast about what one is and what others are missing.
As you reflect upon this parable, you should look at yourself. Have you, as a believer, looked at your own life? What is the mental record like of your thoughts, your desires, your actions, and so on, this year? What are you living on? Is your life wrapped up in the things of the world or is your life wrapped up in the things of God. What does the Sunday gathering of God’s people mean to you? Do you eagerly await the Sunday assembly of God’s people? What is your custom? Are you following the example of Christ in His weekly gatherings on the Sabbath? It is significant that Luke writes his comments before citing the words of Jesus in Nazareth on a Sabbath day: “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read” (Luke 4:16).
This activity of gathering with the saints is one aspect of one’s walk with God. It is in this same vein that the author of Hebrews exhorts believers: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25). Having cited these Scriptures, it is imperative that God’s children apply the whole of Scripture to their every day walk with Him. James, in conjunction with the teachings of Jesus, says:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:22-27).
When Christians do not dwell upon God’s Word on a daily basis, one discovers stunted growth in their lives (see Acts 17:11; 1 Peter 2:1-2; Psalm 1). Jesus, in His confrontation with Satan, calls attention to the need of feeding upon God’s Word: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’a” (Matthew 4:4; see also Deuteronomy 8:3)). Unlike the first two parables, this third parable focuses more on conditions attached. As stated above, one cannot just sit and listen without obedience. This new hope made available through the Gospel demands obedience. One’s new hope of salvation in Jesus follows the instructions of the Lord. It is in this vein that Jesus speaks of the Good News and one’s response to His teachings. Take notice of Jesus’ last words to His disciples in His final commission for world-wide evangelism:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ina the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
Where are you in your relationship to the Lord? One’s self-righteousness can only be overcome by the message of the reconciling death of Jesus upon the Cross. The message of forgiveness is still the great stumbling block for many men and women. It is the love of God that leads to the Cross of Jesus. The religious leaders could not grasp the new principle of life—justification by faith in Jesus. All three parables were directed toward the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. They had to make a choice—accept or reject Jesus as the Savior of the world. You, too, have a choice—accept or reject. You are where you are today because of your own choices. One must choose to follow or not follow the Lord. What choice have you made? The Holy Spirit said to Israel: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:8; Psalm 95:7-11).
God demands the allegiance of one’s life. As stated above, Mark begins his Gospel with the following words of Jesus: “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). “Repent” means to turn about. In other words, repentance is a movement in which one shifts his or her position so that one is facing in a different direction—facing in Christ’s direction. “Believe” is not something one does with just one’s head, but rather, it involves the whole of one’s life; otherwise, it is not belief. One must choose between good and evil. Joshua, too, leader in Israel, pleads with the Israelites to choose God:
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 14:15).
This parable is for everyone—you and me. This parable seeks to bring the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law to repentance. This parable teaches individuals that one ought not to think more highly of himself or herself than one ought to think (Romans 12:3). This parable is still a call for repentance. Repentance demands a change in the sinner—a profound change of his or her mind. Yet, in order for forgiveness to take effect, there is something more in God’s scheme of redemption—Jesus. Christ fulfills the other requirement for salvation—the self-offering of Himself to God as Atonement for sins. Paul expresses it this way: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Do you want a new start? If you repent and believe in Jesus, God wipes out your past. David the psalmist puts across himself this way about God and forgiveness:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him (Psalm 103:11-13).
Are you confident of your own righteousness? Do you look down on everybody else? Jesus concludes this telling story with the words of the angry son: “When this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:30). This ending brings one back to the very beginning of the introduction: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (15:1-2). These Pharisees and the teachers of the Law represent the “older son” (15:25). These are the ones “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” (18:9). Again, Jesus expresses their attitude this way: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (18:11-12).
In Jesus, the love of God becomes a gift to anyone willing to receive Him. With the coming of Jesus, men and women witness God invading history in order to free them from the bondage of sin and guilt. The classic picture of God’s forgiveness is found in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Since the word prodigal means “lavish” and “extravagant,” perhaps the title of this parable would be more appropriate called The Parable of the Prodigal Father. This parable is a parable about the Gospel, which Gospel is about God’s love. It is in Jesus that God’s own love takes hold of everyone. This story sets forth the Christian concept of God—“God is love.” In Jesus, one witnesses the revelation of forgiveness. Since one receives this grace undeservedly, then one cannot be intolerant or arrogant toward anyone. This message may fittingly conclude with the words of Hebert H. Farmer:
That the divine forgiveness waits only upon penitence and goes forth instantly and self-revealingly to meet it not only finds expression in Christ’s explicit teaching as in the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Pharisee and the Publican but also shines forth in his personal attitude in and dealing with men and women—the paralytic young man let down through the roof; the woman who washed his feet with her tears; Peter, when he cried ‘depart from me for I am a sinful man, Lord’’; Zacchaeus, the penitent thief. This must surely be significant. It is hard to think that if there really is in the personal order in which God has set men something essential, fundamental, so to say structural, which ineluctably requires something else to be done before even the most deeply and sincerely penitent man can be received and forgiven of God, something as tremendous, in the full and literal sense of that very overworked word, as the Cross, this should not have been discerned by one who is otherwise so unerringly perceptive to the realities of God and man and of their relation to one another, and found expression in his teaching. On the other hand, it is equally difficult in the light of the Gospel records, even when every allowance has been made for the critical questions involved, to avoid the conclusion that our Lord thought of his Passion, culminating in the Cross, as in some sense a representative and vicarious offering of himself to God on behalf of sinful men.
All Scripture citations are from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), unless stated otherwise.
 David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Parable of the prodigal Son,” in Warren W. Wiersbe, Classic Sermons on the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), 137. I am deeply indebted to Lloyd-Jones for his thoughts on this parable. This citation from Lloyd-Jones is rather awkward. I have rephrased: “The first two parables are designed to impress upon us the love of God as an activity which seeks out the sinner, takes infinite trouble in order to find him and rescue him, and shows the joy of God and all the host of heaven when even one soul is saved.”
a Greek ten drachmas, each worth about a day~s wages
a A denarius was a coin worth about a day~s wages.
f Or his only begotten Son
a Or be a sin offering
b Or away in
a Or Messiah; also in verse 20
 James Montgomery Boice, The Parables of Jesus (Chicago: Moody Press,1983), 52.
 Lloyd-Jones, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” Ibid., 137.
 Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51—24:53, Vol., 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moises Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 1295.
 Lloyd-Jones, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” 142.
b Jer. 9:24
a Or is from faith to faith
b Hab. 2:4
 P. T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross (London: Independent Press, 1909, 1957), 36, 37.
 Ibid., 40.
a Deut. 8:3
a Or into; see Acts 8:16; 19:5; Romans 6:3; 1 Cor. 1:13; 10:2 and Gal. 3:27.
 I am indebted to Robert Clyde Johnson, The Meaning of Christ (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1948), 49 for this idea.
 H. H. Farmer, The Word of Reconciliation: Christ’s Saving Work in the Lives of Men (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966), 60-61.