Parable of the Lost Son


One of the most basic lessons or principles taught throughout the Bible is the Prodigal Principle. We see examples of it in Genesis and all through the Old Testament as God dealt with the Jewish nation as they rejected Him, fell into sin, and then were rescued by Him. This is the Prodigal Principle.

We read the most classic story of it in Luke 15 as Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son (the word prodigal does not appear in the Bible; it means wasteful and was applied to this story because one of the sons wasted his inheritance). Which one? Let’s find out!

Please note Luke (15:1-10)…

Luke changes the scene at this point and sets up the occasion for the presentation of three parables concerning things lost and found. These three are given as a response to the criticism He was receiving from the religious leaders because He not only ministered to sinners and tax collectors (outcasts) with His teaching (which they eagerly sought), but He also ate with them, as He did with the Pharisees(religious leaders), from time to time. The religious leaders considered these people a lost cause. Jesus, on the other hand, preached the gospel to these outcasts and mixed with them socially.

The first two parables (lost sheep and coin) are examples of the natural human desire to diligently seek for a precious thing that has been lost, and the joy one experiences when it is found. Each parable has a happy ending as both sheep and coin are located. Both parables explain why Jesus bothers making an effort to reach these "outcasts" (that are written off as not worth the effort by the religious leaders). In God's eyes the lost are still precious and the effort made to find them is worthwhile.

Luke 15:11-32 (Please Read) The Lost Son

After two parables about lost objects, Jesus steps up His imagery about lost and found and tells the story of the lost son. In this parable He will include characters that represent each person present at the telling of the story: Himself, the outcasts, the religious leaders and how each plays a part in the lost/found scenario.

The parable of the Prodigal Son only appears in Luke's gospel and is probably one of the best known of all the parables. In this story what is "lost" is this young man's soul. He goes from being acceptable and safe in his father's house to becoming an outcast through his own sinfulness and foolishness. There is no searching here because unlike objects (sheep and coins), he has free will. His choices led to his lostness and his own choices will be what bring him back.

The father represents the heavenly Father who is present in the form of Jesus. Just as Jesus ministered to and associated with the outcasts, the father waits for his son and receives him back into the family when he returns. What he lost (his younger son) has returned to him and he rejoices.

The older son personifies the Jewish leaders. True to the tradition, legalistic in following the rules, working for a reward, but no inward faith and love for God which would produce a kind and merciful attitude towards others.

The parable accurately describes the two sons (groups) Jesus dealt with: the outcasts who sought reconciliation and the religious leaders who refused to see their need. Both sons were "lost" but for different reasons:

  • One for dissipation and immorality.
  • One for self-righteous pride.

The sad reality was that only one of the sons was eventually found.

Luke 15:25-32 The Older Son (Please read)

What was the reaction of the older son when he heard the news that his brother had returned? “But he was angry and refused to go in.” The father comes out and urged the son to come into the celebration. Why is the older brother upset. Verses 29-30 give the reasoning. The problem is that he doesn’t think he has received anything like what the younger son has received. He wasted your inheritance with prostitutes and you killed the fattened calf and threw a party when he came back. I have not wasted your inheritance and have been slaving for you these many years and what have you done for me? The older son does not think this is fair. He is thinking about himself and stubbornly refuses to enter.

Verses 31-32 are the critical teaching point of the parable. Please consider that the final words of a parable typically contain the point of the teaching. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” The father says to his older son, “You have everything. What are you upset about?” How can you be upset at this celebration over the lost one returning? You have everything the father has. The older son failed to see that he had everything. All that the father possesses is ours. How can you be upset when the lost return? You are already experiencing everything the father has to offer.

Please notice verse 32. “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” The sheep was lost and was found. Therefore a celebration takes place. The coin was lost and was found. Therefore a celebration takes place. The lost soul was lost and was found. Further, he was dead but now is alive. He was eternally lost, separated from God. But now he is alive. He has been restored. Life has been returned to him. It is time to celebrate!

The older brother allows anger to take root in his heart to the point that he is unable to show compassion towards his brother, and, for that matter he is unable to forgive the perceived sin of his father against him. He prefers to nurse his anger rather than enjoy fellowship with his father, brother and the community. He chooses suffering and isolation over restoration and reconciliation. The older brother’s focus was on himself, and as a result there is no joy in his brother’s arrival home. He is so consumed with issues of justice and equity that he fails to see the value of his brother’s repentance and return. He fails to realize that “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 1 John 2:9-11
Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

In the parable we see three times the celebration that is appropriate and fitting because the lost has returned. The spiritually dead have come to life. We must celebrate when the lost come to the Lord. It is a glorious day deserving of our praise, our singing, our cheering, our joy, and our excitement.

Do not be self-righteous. We are no more deserving of the blessings of God than anyone else. Further, see that we are presently enjoying everything the Father has blessed us with, be grateful and thankful and have a desire to share those blessings with others. God knows our intentions.

One son returned home with a truly repentant heart and was forgiven and reconciled by a loving father. The other son was unforgiving and judgmental. That son needed to check his heart. He became lost and ended up on the wrong end of the parable.