In the Bible in Luke 15:11-32, Jesus gives us the parable of the prodigal son. While at first glance this short story jumps out as primarily about a son lost to sin returning to his father, the meaning is actually much deeper on several levels. If you were to be honest with yourself and identified all the things in your life currently separating you from God, what would it take for you to push them to the side, completely, and go running back into the arms of God the Father? Maybe you struggle with the fact that God accepts anyone and everyone from all walks of life and levels of sin just as equally as He accepts you and that fact makes you uneasy; or angry even.
We All Want the “Quick Fix”
Luke 15:11-13, describes the prodigal son and his desire for a “quick fix”. Instead of waiting for and working for his inheritance, the prodigal son wanted his portion of his father’s inheritance NOW. Gaining wealth and easy living without working for it, to most, sounds good. Cut out the alarm clocks, the bosses, the meetings, the commute, and everything in between that goes along with a job and just take your grace and piece of heaven now…….. If only it were that easy.
You see, that period of time between birth and death, “life on earth” we call it, has tremendous meaning. God has a purpose for each and every one of us. While it may seem that the prodigal son simply tried to “skip” that portion of “life” where work was required to gain his inheritance, he actually learned several important life lessons. He learned how worthless and disposable worldly “things” are and how quickly they can be squandered and he learned about forgiveness, humility, and acceptance. While his “quick fix” seems like such a mistake, look at what was learned and how much better of a man and follower of God he would have become.
The point: Sometimes what seems like a mistake is actually a tool of God to bring you to a new level of maturity in Him.
You Can’t Fix It
In Luke 15:14-16, the prodigal son comes to the realization of the worthlessness of worldly “things”. He finds himself in need and hungry after losing the fortune his father had given him. Further, he tries the fix the situation himself and takes a job feeding pigs.
While we first may give the son credit for trying fix a bad situation, note that his first instinct was to try to fix it all by himself. How often do we find ourselves in bad situations, often times from our own wrongdoing, and we just try to fix things our self? What makes us think we can do or fix anything by ourselves? Is it not disrespectful for us to snub our nose at the very creator, God himself, who is right there willing and ready to help if only we’d ask? But instead of asking, we say, “no God, I don’t need you, I’ve got this….”
We Have to Come to Realize our Mistakes
Luke 15:17-19 is where the prodigal son finally realizes he needs help. He finally realizes he cannot “fix” this on his own. He decides to return to his father, repent his sins, and beg for a position as even a servant.
Repentance is an important part of being a Christian. There is no perfect person here on earth. As it is written in Romans 3:10, “…………There is no-one righteous, not even one”. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” We must recognize that we are not perfect and we, all of us, sin. Once we realize our mistakes, we must confess them, and ask for forgiveness. The forgiveness of our sins is precisely what Jesus Christ died for at Calvary. By ignoring this fact and trying to “fix things on our own”, we are turning our backs at the ultimate sacrifice made by God the Father in sacrificing His son on the cross for the sins we refuse to recognize.
Luke 15:20-24 shows how easy and free forgives truly is. It shows the love the father has for his son even after all the sin and squandering and disobedience. The father was so happy to see his son that he ran to the son from afar once he approached his home, met him, clothed him, fed him, and threw him a welcoming party. Immediately the son was placed at a position of importance above the servants which he requested and hoped to become a part of. The father never once mentioned the sinful ways but instead celebrated the return of his son. Luke15:24 says, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”. This was the reason for the celebration. The father showed the son grace.
God is always here for us. God is that longing father, waiting for his children to return to him. The grace of God awaits us all. He will welcome us, clothe us, feed us, and do it over and over and over. But we have to recognize the need, recognize our sins, all of them, repent, and ask for His forgiveness.
Arrogance and Greed – The Way of The Pharisee
Luke 15:25-30 details another and perhaps the most important part of the story of the prodigal son. For years, I personally was one who never completely understood the meaning. To me, for years, the older brother here was justified in his anger and frustration. To me, the justification for his anger was obvious. Here was a younger brother, immature in his thoughts and ways, he took advantage of a father’s kindness and took his portion of the inheritance, left the older brother there at home to take care of their father and property, and wasted everything he had been given on a sinful way of life. If that wasn’t enough to anger the older brother, the younger son then returned home begging for mercy. But instead of chastising him, his father welcomed him and threw him a party, something he had never done for the older son who had been faithful all these years taking care of the property and farm.
The deeper meaning of this story sits within Luke 15:29-30. Here this angered older brother releases his anger in a rage towards the father stating; “But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
In reading Luke 15:29-30, what is the older brother angry about? Refer to Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” The older brother viewed and believed that his works over the years should have placed him in a position to receive the love of his father moreover that of the younger brother who left the presence of his father and fell into sin.
How often do we find ourselves falling into sin? Maybe it isn’t on the level of the prodigal son, but maybe it is a simple conversation of gossip, a lustful thought, a small lie, all equally sin nonetheless.
Those of us who have tried hard over our lives to remain faithful, pray, trust in Christ, and work hard at being a “good Christian”, we are the older brother. Maybe we believe we are just truly “good people” because we volunteer, we help others, we do “things” that we believe label us as “good”. But we cannot forget that those “works” are just that, “works”. Any by God’s word, our “works” are not what gets us saved from eternal death; “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the give of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”. Do not allow yourself to fall into Satan’s trap of thinking “I am a good and faithful person, I don’t fall into any ‘major’ sins, therefore I am saved”. Only by recognizing your sins, confessing them, and begging for God’s forgiveness will you experience the grace God has waiting for you. No amount of hard work and good deeds will get you into heaven. And remember, as the first part of the story explains, no matter how far someone may fall away from the faith, God the father is always waiting for our return, waiting to welcome us home with open arms. That is grace.
The true meaning of the story of the prodigal son is, therefore, twofold. 1) God the father is always there waiting for us to come home to him. 2) Our “works” will not get us saved, but the grace of God and our acceptance of Him will.
But we have to remember and guard ourselves against the lies of the pharisee in believing we may be “better than” someone else simply because our “works” may reflect us as a “better person” in the ways of this world. We all have sinned, none of us is perfect, and we all have God’s grace waiting for us. The fact that God welcomes us all, is in of itself true Grace and true Love in its deepest sense.
Special thanks to Dr. Martha Storrie for the inspiration to write this article.