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4 events that explain God’s grace for the prodigal sons:
- Something valuable was lost.
- An intensive search ensues.
- Something lost was found.
- An incredible celebration occurs.
Do you secretly wonder how God feels about you? Do you look at others and try and imagine what a loving, perfect Father would have to say about their lives?
We’ve been told about God’s love and grace, but when we’re asked to explain it, we often come up short. Maybe we secretly can’t believe that a Creator would have that much patience and love for His rebellious kids.
Let’s talk about grace. Although it’s a free gift, I suspect it’s a gift that most of us ignore because we prefer to pay our own way.
We are hardwired to work.
We are hardwired to perform.
We are hardwired to want to present ourselves just a little bit better than we are.
Grace separates the God of the Bible from every other religious system in the world. It’s unprecedented.
In Luke 15, we’ve been given some incredible parables about lost objects. Through the ensuing events, we’re given insight into God’s grace, His pursuit of us and His true feelings about His children.
Let’s look at the story of the lost son through the lens of the unique culture of the time, which was a peasant village in the Middle East. With that perspective, we will investigate the 4 events that illustrate God’s grace for prodigal sons like you and me.
In the parable of the lost son, Jesus flips this tendency on its head and completely redefines what God is like. Because, left to ourselves, we create in our minds a God who can never be pleased. A God who’s holding out on us; a God we can’t trust; a God who’s not really good, so we tell ourselves that we’d better take control. In this parable, Jesus shocks the listeners (and us) with a new narrative.
Let’s dive in.
THE SON ASKS FOR HIS SHARE
The story begins when the soon-to-be prodigal son comes to the father and asks, “Father, give me my share of the estate.”
Inheritance was never discussed in that culture. When it was time to receive your inheritance, you weren’t given liquid assets, but the portion that was allotted to you, and with it came all of the responsibility of that asset. So if you received the flock of sheep, you also incurred the caretaking and shepherding roles, too.
For this reason, the son avoided using the word inheritance in his request and instead asked for the portion that was “due” him. This was totally unacceptable and almost never done.
EMBARRASSMENT FOR THE FAMILY
The son was saying to the father, “I want you dead.” He was inconsiderate and callous, not considering the embarrassment he was bringing on the family and the financial implications he left for them. In other words, when the father had to “liquidate” assets to give the son his due, it’s assumed he took whatever was offered to him, both to save pride and to expedite the deals quickly.
In fact, he had every right to kick him out of the family altogether. And the other families in the village would know this, and be wondering why the father would go through all of this trouble for a selfish, rebellious son. The unprecedented response was shocking, and neighbors surely — in the privacy of their homes or the whispers at the market — called the father ridiculous and ignorant.
But instead, the father is giving his son the exact OPPOSITE of what every person in the village would assume he would get. Instead of the son enduring the shame and punishment of this mess, the father has bore the burden himself.
So the estate was divided between the brothers. Soon after, the younger son “sets off,” and the events that follow have stunning parallels to our lives today.
4 Events That Explain God’s Grace For Prodigal Sons
1. Something valuable was lost.
Of course, the son was technically lost. He chose to take what was due him and break away from the family. The parable says the son “set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
The text suggests that he spent his inheritance on an immoral lifestyle. If you study it closely, you’ll also see the likelihood that he blows his fortune trying to find his way in a foreign land. It’s not easy to fit into a Gentile community as a Jewish boy, and money can certainly help.
But he ended up in such a destitute state that he begged for a job from a Gentile farmer who gave him the lowly job of feeding unclean animals: pigs. It was the lowest position one could have imagined.
After some time, he begins to remember what a good man his dad is, and how well he treated his servants. These “hired” servants were the ones who came for the day to work and were all but strangers, and yet they were treated like family — with food to spare!
The son was desperate and starving, and humbly working as his dad’s hired servant sounded better than his current state of affairs. So he decides it’s time to repent and pay off his debt. He’s ready.
For further study, read 4 Inspired Portraits Revealing the Roles of a Faithful Father.
2. An intensive search occurs.
When he was ready to return, we discover that all along there had been an intensive search to find him.
“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.”
Noting that his father “saw him” communicates that he’s been waiting, which is a surprising twist compared to what would have actually happened in this culture. Not only would the father not have been looking for his disgraced son, but there would have been a ceremony among the family and people of the village to write off the son as someone who doesn’t represent them and is considered dead.
This prodigal son would have been written off for dead, and the father would certainly not have been looking for him. But in Luke 15, Jesus said:
“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…”
Since the father was filled with compassion for his son, he searched and waited for him, in anticipation. He was filled with love for his son, despite his behavior.In the culture at the time of the parable of the lost son, a child would have to repay his debt to the family upon returning. Instead, this father reinstated his rebellious son into the family and gave him a place of honor. Click To Tweet
By now I’m sure you’re seeing the picture that Jesus is painting here: the younger son is every one of us apart from the work of Christ. That is, until we’re found…
3. Something lost was found.
In the peasant culture of that day, even if a lost son did return contrite, he would have endured mocking and admonishment.
But in this case, the father did a completely shameful and unacceptable thing by running to greet his son. Grown men don’t run, and surely don’t pull up their robes and show their ankles! But the father didn’t care how ridiculous he looked or what others said about him.
And then, he did the opposite of rejecting him: he kissed and hugged him — in public!
The relief and joy the father experiences brings to mind parents who’ve been reunited with their lost child. Picture a situation where a young girl is lost and every first responder and every person in the community comes together, hand in hand, to search for her.
When she’s found, can you imagine the relief and celebration that would take place?
4. An incredible celebration occurs.
The celebration of the son’s return redefines the Father’s heart for us.
This is how God feels about you when you’re far away.
This is how God feels about me.
This is how He feels about people who are in the throes of addiction and people who have made poor decisions that have hurt other people.
It’s grace. It’s something in him that compels Him to love you. It’s NOTHING in you or me that compels Him to love us. It’s His goodness, His generosity, and His grace.
THE FATHER’S GRACE
The son had a speech and was willing to pay back his debt, which sounds like repentance, but it didn’t get to the heart of the issue. In these works, he was still in control!
There is nothing we can do to work our way back to God. No perfect speech or prayer, no amount of willingness to pay back our debts will compel Him to love us.
In fact, in the text, the father overwhelms the son with love by making public his place of honor in the family: he bore the father’s robe, and was even given authority over the family’s finances! Totally undeserved and unwarranted.
THIS IS GRACE
God deeply values immoral, lost, irreligious people, and is actively pursuing a relationship with them.
That’s all of us.
Instead of assuming God can never be pleased, choose to see God through the lens of a loving Father who —
- Will go to ridiculous lengths to show you His love
- Gives you a place of honor in His family
- Offers grace that is undeserved and unwarranted
Of course, this is done through the work of the person of Jesus, His son who took what was due to us and brought it to the cross.God deeply values immoral, lost, irreligious people, and is actively pursuing a relationship with them. That’s every one of us. Click To Tweet
This is an invitation for prodigals like us — the lost sons and daughters — to come and be at home with God. Then, as His children, we serve the Father solely because we have caught a glimpse of His love and we trust Him.
I hope you’ll tune in to my latest series, The Prodigal and the Perfectionist, where I explore more deeply the gift of grace and the perspective of the older brother in the parable we just studied from Luke 15. I believe you’ll see yourself in these brothers, and I pray that you’ll also see a Loving Father in the story, too.
Explore more transformative lessons from Luke 15 when you watch my Daily Discipleship Course on YouTube, The Prodigal and the Perfectionist.
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Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge
Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.More Articles by Chip