The Parable of the Amazing Father
(often incorrectly called The Parable of the Prodigal Son)


Luke 15:1-2 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

Jesus was being mocked by the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders because he was spending time with "sinners" instead of the "righteous", such as them. Notice that mocking need not be blatant and loud; it is frequently subtle and largely concealed. In response, Jesus utilizes a few parables to directly address their sentiments. The first...

Luke 15:3-7 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Jesus makes it clear that his mission, as the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20), is to seek and save the lost. While every sheep is important to the Shepherd, the one who is lost becomes the focus because of need. And having found and saved that lost one, a greater celebration is deserved. In regards to our Great Shepherd: notice that heaven celebrates "more" for the one repentant sinner than over the others who did not need to repent. This implies celebration for the sheep already safe in the fold, but greater for the formerly lost who has now been found. Do not miss what is being celebrated, as shown by the parable's shepherd; the friends (indeed, all heaven) are rejoicing in the actions of the shepherd, he has found his lost sheep! We too celebrate the gracious actions of our Lord making any focus on the lost sheep secondary to that of the Shepherd. The second parable...

Luke 15:8-10 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

This parable repeats elements of the first, again placing emphasis on the one doing the seeking, finding and saving. All ten coins are equally valuable to their owner, each worth approximately a day's pay, so any subsequent celebration is not to honor one as being worth more than the others. Once again, all who are called to celebrate do so only for the actions of the One who did it all! At risk of repetition; the cause being celebrated is "what" has been found and restored, but this can never be apart from, or primary to, who did it. This leaves the finder alone as "who" is being celebrated.

The apostle John was given opportunity to catch a glimpse of the actual celebration in heaven. This real life event had many celebrants. In keeping with the theme of these parables, their words clearly highlight who the celebration was for.

Revelation 7:9-12 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" (NIV)

Heaven's celebration is all for the One who did the saving. In light of the two previous parables, and their similar focus, Jesus now tells a third (Luke 15:11-31). This we will consider in detail, one piece at a time.

The Parable of the Amazing Father:

Luke 15:11-12 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.

Referencing two sons would have brought a number of Biblical examples to the minds of His listeners, perhaps including Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel, Aaron and Moses, Ephraim and Manasseh (sons of Joseph), to name a few. Along with, or regardless of, these Scriptural examples, they would immediately be aware that the oldest son is the one who would have the greater inheritance. In fact, Mosaic Law made sure that the oldest son was to inherit two-thirds and the younger the remainder.

Deuteronomy 21:15-17 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father's strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him. (NIV)

All those listening would have been astonished by the audacity of the parable's younger son in claiming his inherence before his father's death. His words, in effect, would have said to the father, "I wish you were dead." He dishonored his father (Exodus 20:12). Legally a son had the right to demand his inheritance from his father during his lifetime, something that regional law seemed to have allowed mostly in case of abuse or maltreatment. If this law was in view at all, it added an element of the son unjustly accusing his father of mistreating him. In fact, the younger son cared not that his father was alive, or how he felt, but only about what he could get from him. This is the world's view of our Heavenly Father - "If you're there, what's in it for me?" and "If I've got everything I need, who care's if you're there!" Even as this young man's father gave him a share of his worldly goods, so too God gives temporal blessings to all, even the unjust.

Matthew 5:45b He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (NIV)

Psalms 145:9 The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. (NIV)

Acts 14:16-18 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." (NIV)

With his focus on the "stuff of life", the younger son could not see that he had given up the greater portion; fellowship with the father. He was following the pattern of his ancestral parents, Adam & Eve, who also choose to give up fellowship with the Father for what they could get (Genesis 3:4-6).

Something witnessed through a totality of Scriptures is that those who do not have fellowship with the Father always end up squandering all the good things God has given, whether material goods, relationships, or time. This is where Jesus picks up the story in His parable.

Luke 15:13-16 "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.

The younger son, not caring that his father was alive, wanting to fill his insatiable lust for life, desired only to be one place - far away from the father. He knew that his father would not approve. Spiritually, many today live the same way. As long as they do their sinning away from the church they feel that the Father will not know or care. They do not understand what David wrote:

Psalms 139:7-8 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (NIV)

Sooner or later sin typically begins to leave a bad taste in one's mouth. The book of Hebrews calls it enjoying the pleasures of sin for a short time (Hebrew 11:25). The lost younger son in Jesus' parable, a Jew, ended up lower than the lowest, eating non-kosher food with an unclean pig (Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:8). Still his desire to stay away from the Father's disapproving eyes was, for a time, greater than any desire to change.

Luke 15:17-20a "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men 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 men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father.

Only when things got bad enough did the young man start to think about his father. It was not that he desired that fellowship that he had long ago broken; not that he wanted again to see his father, but merely that he knew his father had more material goods. If he couldn't get it from the world, where he had wasted all he had been given, he would go back and earn it from his father. This is how far too many see the Father in heaven; "I'll serve you as long as you take care of me". They want to earn the Father's blessing, which again is all about what's physically in it for reward. Trusting in his own senses, the younger son figured that, if he had to, working for his father and getting something was better than nothing. He would have to put up with the Father's disapproval. Those hearing Jesus would have been shocked at the presumption of this son. How could he even assume that he could again show his face? After all he had squandered a third of the father's goods and one hundred percent of his goodwill.

It would have been a long walk, likely spent rehearsing how he could make his appeal sound sincere. This is how many come to the church - "I'll join because the church looks after its' own and as long as I do the right things it'll look after me."

The son's rehearsed speech, as utilized in Jesus' parable, even hinted at the insincerity of his words. "I have sinned against heaven and against you." These words, the listeners had heard before, from the mouth of Pharaoh before the Exodus.

Exodus 10:16-20 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me." 18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 19 And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go. (NIV)

The right words publically spoken do not make a person truly repentant, even as Pharaoh's heart was unchanged. Pharaoh's subsequent actions would show where his heart truly was. This son was likely returning with the thought that he would leave again as his fortunes improved. He was, after all, only sorry for how he had ended up, not for what he had done.

2 Corinthians 7:10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (NIV)

Jesus' parable continues as the father sees his son and recognizes him, even though he is emaciated and weathered from his years of riotous living. The father knows his son.

Luke 15:20b "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.

The unexpected happen. The father whose disapproval the son had hidden from, the one whom he was sure was still angry at him, this same father came running. The father didn't care who saw, he was willing to sacrifice his dignity as a Jewish patriarch, to lift the skirt of his robe and run. This amazing father still loved his son, it was he that still wanted that fellowship that had been broken so long ago, and it was he that was willing to forgive. With his loving arms wrapped around him, the son knew that the father wanted and loved him - his son.

Luke 15:21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

The words didn't come out as rehearsed. These words were from the heart, as the son truly knew that he had sinned against his father. He didn't deserve to be a son; indeed he knew he didn't deserve anything. This is where we all must get before our Heavenly Father. When we realize that we are the reason that fellowship was broken, that it was our sinful actions that caused the problem, we come to Him not deserving anything. God owes us nothing.

Luke 15:22-24 "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.

Amazing Grace! This younger son didn't deserve anything but his Father's wrath, but not only did his father forgive him, he restored him completely as his son. The best robe, a ring and sandals were not the clothing of a servant; they were signs of being a son. The father freely welcomed him back. The sinner was forgiven and accepted! The son now loved his father in a way he never could before. The same holds true for every believer who has experienced the saving love of God.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. (NIV)

The parable could end here, if it was for most of us. To be honest, to one degree or another, it's easy to see ourselves in the portrayal of the younger son. But Jesus was telling the story especially for the Pharisees and Religious rulers. They held themselves to be God's chosen, even above their other brothers and sisters within the Jewish people. They believed that their righteous acts gave them special status before God. With-out-a-doubt, they knew themselves to be the older brother of the story - expecting the greater inheritance from God. They deserved it of course! As the parable continues, the focus moves from the younger son, who has been fully restored as a son, to the one who has stayed all along.

Luke 15:25-27 "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.'

The older brother, though he had stayed near the father, was out of touch with Him. I mean, he lived where the Father was, shouldn't he have known the father was spending time everyday watching to see if the younger brother would return? In the same way, spiritually, many are so focused on earthly things that they don't care what the Father is thinking or feeling. As believers we are called to have our thoughts set on things above, even while we live and work here below! (Colossians 3:1-2). What the older son had missed was that the Father's work was seeking his lost son. The older son had busied himself doing other work. How often are believers (indeed the church) guilty of the same thing, filling up our time and keeping busy, supposedly doing the father's work, when in fact we don't understand the father's heart and what he really wants us to be doing.

For the Pharisees and the religious rulers, they lived continuously in the presence of God - physically that is. They prided themselves that they were the one's serving God in His temple. But being at the temple made them no closer to understanding God's will; that takes learning from Him, truly being in fellowship with Him. The older brother in Jesus' parable was the same. His professed position, his years of service, had all been superficial, like his younger brother he had not really wanted to know his father. Sure, he hadn't left to embrace riotous living, as his way of life, but he was still trying to earn his father's blessing.

Luke 15:28-31 "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!'

The older brother cared as little for his younger brother as he did for his father. He neither greeted his father respectfully, actually showing public contempt by refusing to now enter the father's house. He dishonored his father (Exodus 20:12). In his own words, he viewed his time with the father as "slaving" for him. The older sibling had also missed the greater benefit of being a son - spending time with the father. He could never celebrate what the father had done for his brother because he did not understand the father's heart. After all, he was working to increase the father's goods solely because it would benefit him. Having a brother back might jeopardize that. He wanted nothing to do with this person - as shown by referring to his brother as "this son of yours". A brother that was dead to him would be as beneficial as his father dying - everything left would be his alone.

Luke 15:31-32 "'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.'" (NIV)

The parable ends without a resolution. Graciously the father had forgiven the insolence of the older son and the personal affront to him. Here again was the same mercy and grace that had been displayed to the younger son. Subtly he reminds the older that the younger is "this brother of yours." He should care. The father makes it clear that the older son is still physically with him - again it is an implicit offer that the older son could also truly get to know and have fellowship with him. All the blessing of the father is available to him, solely as a son, not because he has to earn it. And here it ends. The gracious and amazing love of the father was available to both sons. The one had accepted it and the other we don't know. It is certain that only those who love the father, who have first experienced his love, could celebrate the father's actions. This was the open invitation left with the older brother.

What an Amazing Father we have, that God himself stepped into our pigpen (this fallen world) to rescue us (Philippians 2:7-8). Scriptures show that the religious rulers listening to Jesus just didn't get it.

Hebrews 2:14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (NIV)

Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2008