We are at the last episode of our series, Dysfunctional Children, Functional God. Now that we have looked at the dysfunctional children, in this episode, we turn our attention to the father in the parable of the prodigal son. The father in this story Jesus told represents God. How does the father's attitude and actions towards the defiant son and the rule-following son mirror God's attitude and actions towards us? What are the most important takeaways from this parable and the other two Jesus told right before?
Episode 99 - The Good Father
Welcome back! Today we’re going to finish our series “Dysfunctional Children, Functional God” by taking a look at the father in the parable. Let’s read it again, before we begin.
As we said before, this parable is about two lost sons; the first one who, as we said in Part 2 of the series, has no interest in a relationship with his father and wishes his father would go away (or in effect basically die) and just give him what he thinks he’s entitled to so that he can live life as he wants.
We have to understand that when Jesus told this parable, the people who were originally hearing Him would have been shocked because they lived in a culture where fathers were highly respected and regarded. So as we said before, for the younger son to go and ask his father to give him his inheritance, was in effect saying, “Father, I wish you were dead so that I could get the material resources that are going to come to me when you finally are dead.”
That would definitely be shocking to the people who are listening to Jesus! But the message is going to become even more shocking. Sometimes we need a brick upside the head to finally get what someone is saying to us. That’s probably what this story is going to feel like to the Pharisees listening.
This son had a bad reputation! It’s likely that all the people listening are waiting for Jesus to say, “This is why you should honor your father and your mother, you should not squander your wealth, you should stay away from unclean people, etc.” And they were probably waiting to see what the father would do when they hear the son is returning.
I’m sure! And, how would we react to our son or daughter who treated us the way the first son treated the father? Would we be watching for them to come home, just waiting to say, “I knew you’d come groveling back”? When we saw them coming up the driveway would we stand on the front porch, arms crossed, tapping our toe with a smirk on our faces?
We’re saying that to try to help put you in the mindset of the Pharisees. This parable is not designed to teach fathers what to do and what not to do with their rebellious kids. It’s designed to tell us how God relates to us in our rebellion. This is a picture of how God relates to us, not how we should parent our children. Let’s read the parable one more time.
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.13Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out tob one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’c22But the father said to his servants,d ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.25“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’
Most of us have stood and watched someone walking away from us to go on a long trip, maybe their first airplane trip, maybe we’ve watched our college freshman walk away once the car is unpacked and it’s time for the long drive back to our empty-nester home, or maybe we’ve watched one or more of our children walk away to go to basic training, knowing we won’t get any more than a phone call to say they’ve arrived there safely and having no idea when we will hear from them again.
The father in the parable, who represents God the Father, saw the younger son walk away. Human parents may not know if or when a child is coming back, but God knows everything. We’re never out of His sight; He’s omnipresent meaning that He’s everywhere all the time, and He’s omniscient, knowing all things. So, nothing catches God off-guard. Nothing we do is a surprise to Him. And in the parable, Luke 15:20 tells us, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him”.
And verse 20 goes on to say he “felt compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him”. In that culture, it was not considered dignified for an older man to run. He would have had to lift up his long robe to run, and that was not thought to be a dignified thing for an older man to do. And so here's this father who's been highly offended by his son, sprinting towards him in compassion and love to receive him.
And the son repents of his sin. This is one of the main points that Jesus is making in this parable. Sinners need to repent. And this son, who has come to the end of his rope does that. He realized that he was utterly destitute. And he knows he needs to repent. In fact, he says, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But he’s thinking that if he does, that his father will hire him back as a worker. He’s not looking to be part of the family again, because he doesn’t think he deserves it. He’s just looking for a way to be near his father and live at home by trying to earn his keep. But Isaiah 55:1 says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The son couldn’t buy his way back any more than we can purchase a ticket to Heaven.
And then the next thing you see the father doing in the parable is saying to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” Who in the house would have the best robe? The father's robe would have been the best robe in the house. When we’re forgiven by God, we get Christ’s robe of righteousness. We get God’s own robe.
Remember, this man is filthy from being with the pigs. Notice, the father doesn’t say, “Son, go in and clean up, throw your robe in the washer and use some Clorox!” The son could never have a clean enough robe. We can never clean ourselves up enough to merit salvation. Zech has a vision about this very thing in Zech. 3,
Amen! And the ring and the sandals are additional signs of his sonship. He's given a signet ring, restoring him to full sonship. He's being welcomed back into the household not as a servant or some kind of hired hand, but as a son. Now, no one listening to this story would have thought, that what the father was doing was just. They would have been thinking that this father was going way too far in showing kindness to this horrible son. They might’ve disrespected the father for being so lenient, or such a softee!
Grace is unmerited favor. That’s the kind of love God the Father gives us. We do absolutely nothing to earn it. We don’t get what’s coming to us; Jesus has already paid the price for us…. Not matter how sinful and bad we’ve been. There are people in the world who are under so much conviction of sin they cannot believe that God would receive them in the light of what they've done. But Jesus says in John 6:37, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He will never turn away a sinner who has repented of his sins. Instead, He will welcome him home.
Let’s talk about what that coming home looks like. The second point Jesus was driving home in all three parables about lost things is that when the lost are found, there is rejoicing.
Matthew 18:12 echoes Luke 15:10 in this rejoicing over lost things. It says, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”
Not only is there rejoicing, but the son gets a party. Isaiah 25:6-9 says, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.””
The prodigal son doesn’t get what he deserves, he certainly didn’t deserve a party. But this parable is about God: the love of God, the concern God for seeking and saving His lost people, that God will forgive even the most wretched of sinners. And, He delights in doing that! Let’s talk about this feast.
Right now, one of the key components to believers celebrating communion, The Lord’s Supper, is as a remembrance of what Jesus did for us. It was originally instituted at a Passover meal, where the remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt was part of the feast. So there is a past to the Lord’s Supper we partake in, and a present, but there’s also a future. Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper that this was His final drinking of the Passover cup until He drinks it anew in its fulfillment in the kingdom of God. Luke 22:28-30 says, “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” These and other verses hint at a future aspect of communion.
Exactly. It’s a future reality for us when the kingdom comes in it’s fullness at the end of the world as we know it. Revelation 19:6-9 gives a picture of it too with the marriage supper of the Lamb, which is to come! “And I heard a sound like the roar of a great multitude, like the rushing of many waters, and like a mighty rumbling of thunder, crying out: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our Godb the Almighty reigns.7Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory.
For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.
8She was given clothing of fine linen, bright and pure.” For the fine linen she wears is the righteous acts of the saints. 9Then the angel told me to write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
So let’s talk about some takeaways from this parable. The younger son plans what he will say when he gets home. His speech is planned out. When we studied for this, I couldn’t help but think to myself how many of us do that in our relationship with God when we don’t truly understand salvation. We plan our prayer in our head, “Oh God, I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I’m going to get back on track with you by starting to go back to church regularly.” Or we may think in our heads, “I know I’ve backslided, but I can get back in God’s good graces again if I start serving at church, studying my Bible, etc.” But God won’t accept us on our terms, with our offers of working for Him, or our trying to earn salvation for ourselves. We don’t really get the truth of salvation until we finally realize we have absolutely nothing to offer Him – and that includes our works!
We want God on our own terms. We want to say, “I was born like this; therefore, God should overlook my sin.” We said at the beginning that God is purposeful. That’s why we named in Dysfunctional Family, Functional God. Functional means purposeful. God is sovereign. He has ordained everything that is happening. He didn’t cause you to sin, but like the younger brother, you made sinful decisions and now you’re stuck where you are.
Like we said, the father in the story of the prodigal is God. He knows that ALL humans have a disdain for Him. Romans 10:11-12 says, “None is righteous, no, note one; no one understands; no one seeks for god. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Until and unless God regenerates our hearts and turns them from stone to flesh through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are all enemies of God. That’s the main point Jesus is getting to here; He’s telling the judgmental, self-righteous Pharisees that they are just as lost as the son who took his share of the Father’s stuff and squandered it.
Jesus is missing from the story. The young man has an elder brother, but he needed a good elder brother. He needed an elder brother who would seek him and save him out of his miry pit. But, his older brother didn’t and the Pharisees had the same attitude about the “sinners.” Both the younger son and we need the Perfect Elder Brother.
I want to quote Kevin DeYoung from a 2015 TGC Conference here: “Jesus wasn’t afraid to hang out with sinners and he wasn’t afraid to teach them truth and call them to repentance. Are we afraid to talk about repentance?
“[Jesus] wasn’t calling sinners to join with him in despising the righteous. No one was .” “No one in the history of the world has been more inclusive of repentant sinners than Jesus and no one has been more intolerant of sin.”
Sin can get to be a heavy burden. In John Bunyan‘s book Pilgrim’s Progress, sin is likened to a heavy backpack. In fact, the whole book’s theme is “Christian trying to get rid of his heavy backpack. The more we sin, the heavier the backpack gets. Personally, I would say it feels like a dark unsettling inside of us. But no one can out-sin the grace of God. If you find yourself today mired in the muck of the mess you’ve made of your life, if there’s something inside of the pit of your stomach it just doesn’t feel right, if you know that you are not saved and you feel unsettled, today is the day.
It might be time for you to come home. God the father isn’t waiting to punish you if you come with repentance realizing Jesus already paid the penalty for your sin. Remember, in all three parables, every response when finding a lost thing is rejoicing! It’s calling people together and having a party! That is the response of the father when one of his lost ones is found.
If we find yourself having a self-righteous attitude, being like the older brother, counting on all the things that we’ve done to “serve the lord” in any way, shape or form for having a right relationship with God, then we need to repent of it.
The good father in the story goes out to the older brother. He desires him to come in and join the party. It’s his desire to have the older brother join in the feasting, to rejoice with the rest of them and be glad that his brother is home. Like we learn last week, the older son is just as far away from the father as the younger son was when he was mired in the muck of the pigs! But the older son is too blinded his own goodness and self-righteousness to even have an understanding of anything having to do with unmerited grace.
This parable is the theme of the book Les Mis. Jean val Jean is the younger son
The only way to merit salvation is to trust in what Jesus did on the cross for you. There’s no way you could ever be good enough to merit it yourself. Trust in Jesus’. Righteousness . The Father has asked you to come. Are you going to?
Where do you find yourself? As the lost younger son who’s wallowing in the muck? Or as the older brother, also just as lost, wallowing in your self-righteousness wanting justice for everyone else? Wherever you are, come!
We’ll end with these words from J. C. Ryle. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Let the person who is ashamed to repent consider these verses and cast shame aside. What though the world mocks and jests at your repentance. While man is mocking, angels are rejoicing. The very change which sinners call foolishness, is a change which fills heaven with joy. Have you repented? That is, after all, the spiritual question which concerns us. What shall it profit us to know God's love if we do not use it? If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.
That’s where we’ll end today! We are only 8 days from the release of The Bible Blueprint – A Guide to Better Understanding the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Look for posts about our launch party on Aug. 17 at 7:00 p.m. EST. We invite you to join us! We will have giveaways and some other cool stuff!