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The Father, the Pharisees and the two lost sons

Powerpoint for sermon (PDF)

As I was preparing I felt God prompt me to look at the Parable of the Lost Son from Luke 15. It is a passage that I have read many times and one that I have heard many sermons on it. I guess many of you here had a read it a number of times and heard sermons too. Today I would encourage you to listen with an open heart and open mind, because we all approach Scripture with our own views, our own experiences, and our own teachings we have heard.

This parable is a great story of a father who has two sons. One that is wayward and away from home for a part of the story and one who is wayward in attitude but lives under his father’s roof.

As we read this story we need to read it in light of verses 1 and 2. Verse I and 2 says…

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

This puts them in context and gives us an understanding of how they are to be interpreted. We need to remember that as Parables they are stories Jesus used to teach important spiritual truths. We also need to be aware of the hearers of the story. They were for those who were following Jesus (tax collectors and sinners according to verses 1-2), but also for the Pharisees who were listening and complaining off to the side. They really didn’t like Jesus and saw Him as a threat.

Bible Reading - Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Lost Son or the Prodigal Son as it is called in some versions

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “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.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Breakdown and teaching on the text

For many years I only read this great parable on a surface level. But after attending Bible college I learned a lot of the background customs and meanings used in the story and it helped me to see the deeper level and meaning. In this section I want to share some of the things I learnt.

Verses 11-12

In verses 11 & 12 we see it used the term "share of the estate". This would be his inheritance that a younger son would receive on the death of the father. It would be one-third, because the older son received two-thirds (see Deuteronomy 21:17). Some Bible commentators tell us that in the Jewish culture the sons asking for his inheritance actually meant “I wish you were dead and I want my money now.” It was not something a good son would do. For a son to do this to a father would be heartbreaking. In saying this though it is very much like the Pharisees who were listening. They wanted their inheritance of the Kingdom, but did not want Jesus.

Verses 13-16

In verses 13-16 we see the son "squandered his wealth on wild living." In our terms it might mean our kids left Merredin and went to live in Kings Cross and lived the Kings Cross lifestyle (ie. drugs, alcohol, gangs, strip clubs, prostitutes). The "distant country" was apparently outside Jewish territory where the Temple and/or Synagogues were. And for the Jew, especially the Pharisees, the closer to the Temple you were the purer or holier you could consider yourself to be.

We also see in this section a famine had swept the country and made food harder than usual to get. The wayward son found himself with the demeaning job of feeding pigs. Again, pigs were seen as unclean animals for the Jews. He would even have eaten pig’s food. Not only had the son told his father he wished he was dead and he squandered his money living wildly, but he worked with unclean pigs in a foreign land. For a Jewish son it was a very bad place to be. It was a low as you could go.

Verses 17-20

In verses 17-20 we read that he "Came to his senses" and seems to be repentant. He even prepared a speech for his father. He was motivated by his situation and his hunger, but ultimately he wanted to return to his father. He realized that his sins were ultimately against God when he says "heaven". It is interesting to note that a devout Jew would often use the term “heaven” instead of “God” so he would not be seen to potentially be blaspheming. The son knew he had no right to return as a son, having taken and squandered his inheritance. He therefore planned to earn his room and board. In telling this story Jesus portrays the father as waiting for his son. If it were today in Merredin, he might have been waiting at the edge of town or at the farm gate. He runs to great him. This would have been considered shameful for a man of his standing. For a Jewish man to lift up his robe and run would expose his ankles and lower legs. This was considered very shameful. Regardless, the father's compassion and his embrace show his true love for the son. He is not worried about social conventions or what others think.

Verses 21-24

In verses 21-24 we see the son's prepared speech was never completed in verse 21. He didn’t even get to the part of being a "hired man" that he talked about in verse 19! The father was too busy rejoicing that the son had come home. What he gave his son signified more than being his son. The robe was a ceremonial one such as a guest of honor would be given. It covered him much like Jesus’ righteousness covers us. The ring signified the father’s authority and access to the father’s money. In our terms he gave him an American Express gold card in the father’s name. The sandals also signified a rich person or a person of standing as slaves did not generally wear shoes. The calf that was apparently being fattened for some special occasion and used as it was time to celebrate.

Verses 25-32

When we come to verses 25-32 we come to the part that talks about the other lost son. In verse 28 we see a contrast of attitude between the older son and the father. The son became angry, but the father went out to him as he had for the younger brother. He pleaded with him to come inside, but the older son was very abrupt in his reply. The words he uses in verses 29 & 30 shows disrespect towards his father. He says things like “Look”, "slaving" and "You never gave me". Likewise, by saying "this son of yours," he is not even acknowledging his own brother. The father though says "this brother of yours" in verse 32. The father reminds him it is not just his son, but it is his brother too. The older brother is angry with both father and brother, but the father is compassionate and open to both his sons.

Application points

What can we learn from this passage? What things can we draw from it to put into practice in our lives today? I have three things I want to share.

1. From the father we can see what it is to truly love, accept and forgive those who have gone astray.

In the story the Father sees the son in the distance and runs to him. As we saw this would have been shameful, but he ran regardless. He kissed his son on the neck. Remember the son would have been filthy from his work and the long journey. But the father kissed him anyway. It is interesting to note the Greek word used here for kiss is kataphileō. Which mean to kiss earnestly – not an air kiss! He was not concerned about getting dirty or unclean. It was not about him, it was about his dead son who was now alive. In this passage we get a glimpse of what it is to welcome people home. We see the son didn’t even get a chance to finish his repentance speech. He was welcomed and a party started. The father doesn’t lecture, or place conditions on him, he just welcomes. Welcoming his lost son home was his main priority. As a father I can learn a lot from that.

In many ways it is like Jesus who left the glories of heaven to come and die on a Roman cross – the most shameful way a person to die. He wasn’t worried about getting dirty or unclean because it wasn’t about Jesus - it was about His love for us.

Likewise as Christians, we need to welcome people into our lives and the church too. We don’t need to lecture them or they don’t need to have their act together before they come. We just need to invite and accept and love them. Why do I say this? Because when people are in relationship with us, and inside the church, they have a chance to hear the Word of God, they have a chance to let the Spirit of God touch them. They also get a chance for our love, for our prayers and our service to minister to them and meet their needs. Then they can come to know Jesus and become the people God longs for them to be.

In short: The father welcomed the son. God welcomes us. We need to welcome people too.

2. We can never be like the son who could not forgive and accept his brother.

The older son in the story was jealous and angry and couldn’t believe that the Father would accept the wayward son. This is like the Pharisees not accepting those people who were outside the “faith”. To them they were Gentiles or sinners with a capital S. There is a real parallel between the older son and the Pharisees, and the younger son and the gentiles. This is the point Jesus is trying to get across to them. In many ways the older son was in the father’s house, like the Pharisees in the Temple, but he didn’t have a real relationship with his father and he didn’t understand what that really meant. When the father went outside to invite him in, he refused. It was like the Pharisees and Jesus. The reality was that the Pharisees could have come and sat down with the sinners and listened to Jesus. Like the Pharisees, the older brother couldn’t get over the younger brothers acceptance when he had been obedient and served all along in his own mind.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day got so caught up in following the law and their Jewish customs that they forgot what it was to welcome outsiders with compassion and to show mercy. This is why Jesus clashed with them so much. They were so caught up in following the law that they despised the “unclean” people that God loved so much. God’s heart for the Jewish people was that would have outward facing mirrors that would reflect God’s love, holiness and character to the world around them. Instead they turned the mirrors inward and only looked at themselves. There was an old Rabbinic saying that sums them up perfectly. It said, “Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring them to the Law”. In today’s terms we might say, “Let not a person associate with those outside the family of God, not even to allow them to see the love of Jesus and His message of salvation”. It was not what God wanted from them.

Today for us as Christians we need to be careful we don’t do the same things the Pharisees did. We need to accept people who have lived wild lives and then who come to God. We need to trust people who followed others faiths and now follow Jesus. We also need to be accepting of those who have wandered away who have now returned to follow Jesus. Our heart should be like that of the loving father who welcomed his son home. Our heart should be like the Heavenly Father who always welcomes and accepts us home too.

In short: We can’t see people as unclean, or outcastes or sinners. We need to allow people to receive God’s forgiveness and welcome them in.

3. Do you relate to one of the characters in the story?

Do you relate to the father whose son has gone astray? Have your kids not lived up to your expectations? Are they not living the way you hoped? Are they off in a far land away from you and away from God? If so, take heart from this story. Like the lost son I hope and pray they will come to their senses. Keep believing, keep praying, keep holding out hope. Wait at the farm gate. Wait at the edge of town. And when they come run to them. Throw your arms around them and welcome them in. Have a party and celebrate. This unconditional love might just win them over like God’s unconditional love won you and me over.

Maybe you relate to the angry older brother? Maybe you are a bit like the older brother who has served in his father’s house for many years and you don’t feel blessed. If I am brutally honest here, I used to feel that way at times in my walk with the Lord. People would come along and get opportunities to serve over me. I had been there for years and they just arrived. It didn’t seem right in my own mind. Sometimes I would struggle that others received so many blessing from God like new cars, or houses and had great jobs and I was struggling to rub two cents together. Likewise some people had great health and fitness and I could hardly walk. One friend could run half marathons and I could hardly walk from the car to the pew. I was jealous and angry on the inside. I was doing all the right things on the outside, but sometimes on the inside I was angry, bitter or estranged from God. I was like the older brother and the Pharisees. I needed to repent and ask God to help me to think right and to soften my hard heart afresh.

Or do you relate to young son who has gone astray? Maybe you are on the edge of decision today. Maybe you were once in the church and serving God, but maybe you have slowly gone astray. Maybe you went off to the foreign land. Your church attendance has drifted. You heart may have grown cold to the things of God. Maybe you just don’t like spending time with Christians because you have been hurt in the past. Today I would encourage you to come home. Come home to the Heavenly Father and come and live under His roof and His covering today. Unlike the lost coin and the lost sheep in the preceding parables, you have a choice to come home, they needed to be found.


This parable of the lost son, gives us a great picture of God’s welcoming love for us all. In the first part (verses 11-24) we saw the sense of joy and restoration when the lost son is found. In the second part (verses 25-32) we saw the wrong attitude of the elder brother. Like the Pharisees, he could not comprehend the meaning of forgiveness and acceptance on unclean people. While all along the father remains constant in his love for both sons.

By telling the story Jesus identifies himself with the Father God in his loving attitude to the lost. Jesus represents the Triune God and their joint mission of bringing the world back to Themselves. Like the father in the story who was overjoyed, it should bring joy for us as Christians when someone comes home to Him. We can never be like the older brother or the Pharisees.

Let us pray.

By Dave Quinn
Founder of PASSION Australia







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