The parable of the prodigal son will warm your heart. This beloved Bible story will increase your admiration of God, and your sense of duty to other people.
Please read Luke 15:11-32 ESV before beginning free Bible study lessons #4.03.
Previous Lesson: Parables Of Jesus Christ #4.02.
Preliminary Bible Study Questions:
1. Who is the main character in the prodigal son parable?
2. How should I respond when a downtrodden sinner walks in the church doors?
3. What part does God play in returning a lost sheep to his fold?
It's always edifying to study about God's attributes of love, patience, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. That is exactly what we'll be learning (again!) today. We will also be refreshed about how sinful the human heart really is. Let's get started.
Jesus was teaching the common folks one day when some Pharisees and Scribes joined the audience. As always, they found something to complain about and this time it was the fact that Jesus befriends and dines with common sinners. Jesus knew their thoughts, he knew their motives, and he knew their hearts. Jesus then turned to the Pharisees and Scribes and taught them three parables, which were: 1) Parable of the Lost Sheep; 2) Parable of the Lost Coin; and 3) Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Normally, a parable has one truth, but the parable of the lost son has many amazing truths found throughout the story. This parable is slam-packed with outstanding insight about God and people from start to finish. Normally, the parable of the prodigal son is told with salvation in view, i.e. the lost son comes from his state of original sin to salvation. However, I don't believe that strict interpretation fits the biblical record.
I believe this to be a parable of two saved sons
already within the kingdom with one brother falling into sin, but
eventually returning to the fold. This interpretation works better with
the biblical text and makes more sense.
Parables use fictional figures to represent reality, so let's understand this from the start. The father in the parable of the prodigal son represents God as the central figure. The two sons are members of God's family. The prodigal son's friends represent worldly people, and the father's servants are others within his family. The parable of the prodigal son holds some wonderful surprises for us.
According to the Jewish Mishnah and Deuteronomy 21:17, the oldest son has rights to an extra share of the sibling's inheritance. In the parable of the prodigal son, there were a total of two sons in the family. Normally, the entire inheritance is passed on at the death of the father.
The parable of the prodigal son, though, contains a request outside the norm. The youngest son approached his father and requested his share of the estate. The son wasn't content in his setting. He wanted to travel and leave his home. He sought adventure outside his safe and protected environment. He grew tired and bored with himself.
The story soon reveals that he was full of sinful desires which wouldn't let his soul rest. He lacked faith in the sovereignty and righteousness of God.
The father allowed the request of his youngest son and divided his estate into thirds, giving his eldest son the future rights to two-thirds, and immediately passing on one-third to his defiant son. After a short time passed the son took his belongings and inheritance to a distant land.
The defiant son showed a blatant disregard for his gracious father, basically making the statement that his father may as well be dead to him. He could not wait until the day of his father's death to receive his share of the inheritance.
Time will also soon reveal the rebellious son's other issues. The youngest son shunned his righteous father and took his earthly blessings to a faraway land.
The parable of the prodigal son shows that the sinful nature of a human sometimes leads to total debauchery.
The prodigal son chose to live in a state of hedonism.
He wasted his inheritance on immoral women, entertainment, and eating and drinking. His friends in sin were plentiful.
The prodigal son was having fun and enjoying life. He was living carefree and had no thought of personal responsibilities. Life was exciting, just as he imagined.
Back home, though, his father had thoughts that his younger son was probably in trouble, maybe even dead. The father missed him and yearned for his return. He kept a watchful, hopeful eye on the path in which his prodigal son could return home someday. The years passed with no word.
The parable of the prodigal son reveals that one day the young man ran out of money. Neither were there jobs to find because a terrible famine had fallen across the land. Foolishly, the boy squandered his earthly gifts, leaving himself unprepared for a natural disaster.
He finally found a Gentile farmer who allowed him to care for his pigs. This was a severe embarrassment to a young Jewish man. Pigs were disgusting creatures to him and here he found himself feeding them and sleeping near them.
No one gave him anything to eat because of the famine. His so-called friends had long since deserted him because he ran out of money.
The prodigal son was broke, hungry, thirsty, lonely, disgusted with himself, and thoroughly embarrassed. The parable of the prodigal son teaches us the horrors of following our evil desires.
Because of his sinful desires and lifestyle, a cloud of shame had covered the lost son's rebellious spirit, leaving him unable to see the errors of his ways (Matthew 6:22-23 ESV).
He convinced himself that life should be full of fun, booze, sex, entertainment and work-free living.
His mind couldn't properly reason resulting in sound judgments. He was blind to the utter sinfulness of his lifestyle (Daniel 9:7-8 ESV). He was deaf to the good teachings he heard in his youth about God's ways, morality, family and wise living.
Those good things were all a distant memory to him. He found himself in the ultimate shameful situation of an indentured servant feeding disgusting, unclean animals. Worldly sin drags a soul into the mud of a pig sty.
The parable of the prodigal son tells us that he approached the point of starvation. His body, his stomach yearned for something, anything to eat. The farmer refused to let him eat the pods that the swine ate!
The prodigal son was near death. He was helpless and alone.
Slowly but surely he started having thoughts of his childhood. He missed his family and their farm. His memories of those things warmed his heart. He recollected all the good things of family, hard work, and right living. He began to understand the lessons from his youth.
The shame of all his debauchery fell upon him heavily. He suddenly felt like the fool he had become.
The prodigal son was beginning the process of repentance.
His reasoning returned! He thought, "I'll return home and confess my sins. I'll tell my father I'm not worthy to be his son. But, I'll work as his servant, and live as his servant. It's my only hope to survive."
The cloud of shame continued to lift! (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).
The prodigal son was hopeful that his father would forgive him and allow him to work for his wages, at least enough to buy food.
The parable of the prodigal son finds the son nearing his home after a long, arduous journey. "Oh, if only Father would allow me to work as a servant in the fields. He probably won't, but it's my last hope."
Still a ways from his home his father's keen eye spots his lost son! He is so excited! He drops what he is doing and races out to greet him! His son has returned! The father kisses him on the neck - he tackles him, embracing him.
The prodigal son attempts to confess and apologize, but gets cut-off by his father, who tells the servants, "Bring out the best robe for my son, and place a ring on his finger, and put sandals on my son's feet! Bring the fatted calf and kill it, so we can celebrate! My son has returned!"
The party commenced with the neighbors and family. What joy! What excitement! Life is good again. The father is so happy. The prodigal son simply cannot believe the incredible reception, love, forgiveness, and mercy that is being shown by his father. The lost son now completes his process of repentance by accepting his father's forgiveness (Psalm 34:4-7 ESV).
The father's gifts to the son were special. The robe signified that he was the guest of honor at the banquet. The ring was given as a symbol of his authority in the family and farm, meaning the father was replacing him to his previous stature. The sandals for his feet were given to him because only slaves worked without sandals.
The father graciously returned his prodigal son to his prior position within the family and farm.
That is the remarkable way of our incredible Father.
The older brother returned from the distant pastures he had been working. He hears the celebration, laughter and music, finally being told by a servant that his brother had returned. He cannot believe what is happening.
His father is throwing a huge banquet for his delinquent brother?! Are you kidding?!
The father comes out to greet the oldest son and tells him the great news.
The son became angry at his father. He himself had been a loyal son, always obedient and never leaving the farm. Never had the father thrown a party, not even with a fatted goat, which is worth a tenth of the calf.
The son felt the father was unfair, totally unjust, and even foolish. "How could you do this to me?!"
Not once did the older brother show the slightest hint of joy for his brother returning. He was irate, nearly in a rage about this welcome home party.
He felt belittled and betrayed by his father's choices to forgive and renew his brother.
"How could my father show mercy to this insolent son of his?! This despicable person who threw away a third of his father's wealth? It doesn't make sense!"
The father calmly explained to his eldest son that he will always have his blessing and his inheritance - nothing will take that away. The older son will receive the entire estate at his father's death. Nothing changes those facts.
The father told him that his brother has returned, and because of that fact they should be glad. He was gone, and now home, The son was lost, but now he is found. He was dead to us, but now he is alive.
His life has been resurrected. Let's celebrate!!
A human is worth much much more than any amount of land, money and goods. The parable of the prodigal son has given us much to consider.
What an awesome Father we have!
Picture yourself in your longtime church. Years ago you had a friend depart the church and fall into every kind of sin imaginable. You've heard the stories of his wanton immorality and totally debauched lifestyle. He became a playboy.
Years and years pass by and you and your brothers and sisters in Christ have been slaving away at church, never having enough help to lead, teach, serve, witness, not to mention cleaning, giving, and cooking, etc.
One Sunday morning this long lost friend stumbles in the front door looking bedraggled and near death. The pastor rejoices! Many brothers and sisters jump for joy, and leave their tasks to console him.
But, for some reason, you're angry with this person. Everyone is making such a fuss for this loser. You think, "Why?! He's a mess - look at him! Can't you people see that he probably only wants money from us, so he can buy more booze and women?! Get him out of here before he corrupts our people!"
That, my friends, is what the story teaches about human nature. Now, let's hear what it teaches about God's nature.
God always welcomes back a repentant sinner. God works hard to make sure one of his own never falls eternally into hell. It's patient, difficult work on God's part.
He has to first allow the
sinner man to wallow in his slop with the pigs. He has to let him eat
the leftovers of the swine.
The Spirit works with the sinner's spirit in order that the person learns helplessness. The Holy Spirit slowly removes the dark cloud of shame from the person's spirit, so the light of the gospel can come to remembrance (John 14:26 ESV). He brings to mind the word of God that was planted in his heart years prior.
When the sinner finally repents and returns to the fold, the Father and his angels rejoice! The son was lost, but now he has returned to the family! Everyone rejoice!
You all retain your rewards in the kingdom, and
you'll maintain your positions in the church. But, right now, let's
celebrate the return of our long lost brother!
God is full of patience, mercy, grace and forgiveness. His love for the lost is immeasurable. God's favorite moment is when a sinner enters the fold.
the other hand, people are full of ingratitude, jealousy, envy and
sinful desires. All people are full of sin, me and you included, some
more so than others. All are unworthy of one good thing from our Father.
Family members should rejoice when an undeserving brother or sister enters the flock in repentance - it's a great testimony to God's redeeming power. One's lack of joy over a repentant sinner reveals a cold, hard heart in the person.
Repent, Friend, if this is you.
Appreciate God's undeserved favor in your life AND the life of other
sinners, who are just like you.
Join our next lesson: Parable Of The Lost Sheep #4.04.
Parable of the Prodigal Son: Bible Study Questions:
1. What overtakes a person when he falls into severe sin?
2. What processes work together to lift a person from his or her severe sinful lifestyle?
3. Many of God's attributes shine forth in this parable of the prodigal son. Which impresses you the most?
4. Who deserves all the credit when a sinner repents and returns to the family of God?
Inspirational Bible Verses:
The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some men count slowness; but is patient to towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV
Or do you despise the riches of his goodness and tolerance and patience; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? Romans 2:4 KJV
Prayers Of Thanksgiving:
Oh dear Father. You are so patient with us sinners. You let us go on our way when we turn rebellious against you. You know our cold, sinful hearts won't be content with you unless we ruin our lives through our neglect towards our human responsibilities. Sometimes, the only way for us to get the message you're sending is to ignore your warnings and pleas to obeying you. We're so short-sighted and foolish, Lord. The parable of the prodigal son reveals us at our worst. Please don't let us fall into temptation and fool-hearty living. Help us trust your word. Please protect us from our sinful desires and evil hearts. God, please continue to have mercy on us, saving us, and leading us back into the fold when we slip into habitual sin. You are our only hope, dear God. In Christ's name. Amen.
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Special Note: I am grateful to my wonderfully talented friends at Big Book Media and Free Bible Images for the use of their pictures in the Parable of the Prodigal Son Bible study lesson.