The Parable of the Forgiving Father
I am sure that many of you are familiar with this record in the 15th chapter of Luke. Over time, this parable has been known as the parable of the prodigal son. When we examine the record more closely, we will see that both sons were prodigal [reckless or wasteful]. To be more accurate, we will refer to this parable as that of the forgiving Father.
First, we need to understand that a parable is a figure of speech. God marks important places in His Word with figures of speech. A parable is an extended simile and a simile is a comparison by resemblance. Parables are among the more difficult portions of God's Word and require greater spiritual discernment. It also must be possible for the story told in the parable to happen in order to have a parable. Many parables that Christ spoke went over the heads of many that heard. Only those who were faithful and committed understood completely the parables that Jesus Christ spoke unto them. Before continuing with this teaching, it is best if you take a look at God's explanation of a parable. This is documented in the Matthew 13: 10 - 17. [Did you read those Scriptures?] With this background, let's now turn to Luke Chapter 15.
Remember, that the Word of God interprets itself either in the verse, in the context, or where it was used before. In this particular situation, we must examine the context of the chapter to be able to understand the complete meaning of the parable.
Luke 15: 1, 2 -- Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
They drew near to Jesus not to hear him teach the Word of God, but to simply murmur -- to find fault. Just as it is today, God's Word is for people who want to hear. But there are some people which we cannot reach because they will not listen. They act like they want to know, but in their hearts, they still say "NO" to God's Word -- just like the scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees were the legalists of Jesus' time. They had to do everything precisely according to the law. The scribes were the interpreters of the Scriptures and they were supposed to be the scholars.
In Luke chapter 15, the publicans and sinners came to Jesus to learn God's Word, but the scribes and Pharisees came to look on -- to murmur, to criticize. Whenever you are sharing the rightly divided Word of God, the adversary will always be there trying to hinder you. You need to realize that the Christ in you is greater than what is in the world and that you are more than a conqueror in every single situation. You are studying the rightly divided Word of God. God will help you if you don't faint in your mind.
Galatians 6: 9 -- And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not [in our minds].
In verse two (2), the word 'murmured' means 'subdued threatening'. It means to stir up trouble with vicious undertones such as "Get him! Let's get him". Just like in religious circles, if you are a good boy and hang around only with the members of the congregation and be like them, then no one will murmur against you. Jesus Christ spent time with the sinners and ate with them. That is why these legalistic unbelievers murmured against him. The main point is that we understand who Jesus Christ was speaking to when he spoke these parables. He was addressing the scribes and the Pharisees.
Luke 15: 3 -- And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
Jesus Christ spoke three (3) parables in Chapter 15 of Luke. Verse three says he spoke unto "them" which we now know were the scribes and the Pharisees. If you read Matthew Chapter 13: 10 - 17 pertaining to God's description of a parable, you will understand that Jesus Christ knew that these scribes and Pharisees would never completely understand what he was saying and you will understand why. Now let's go to the third parable which begins in Luke 15: 11. This is a tremendous and heart-warming illustration of a forgiving father who rejoices over the one sinner who repents -- in this case, his son.
Luke 15: 11 -- And he [Jesus] said, A certain man had two sons:
The word "man" here refers to the father, and the word "father" refers to God.
Luke 15: 12 -- And the younger of them [those two sons] said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
In the times of the Bible, where there were only two sons, the inheritance would be divided 1/3 to the younger son and 2/3 to the older son. The younger son said that he wanted his portion of goods. The word "goods" is the word "property". The older son never asked for his share of the property, but even so, God did not leave out the older son. God never forgets any of his Sons when he is dealing out His blessings.
Luke 15: 13, 14, 15 -- And not many days after the younger son gathered all together [everything he had that his father had given him], and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance [property which he had received] with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he [this citizen] sent him into his fields to feed swine.
Apparently, this younger son who left home was not as mature or wise as he thought he was. He squandered all his father's property and it appears as if he partied almost every single night. And then what happened? He ran out of money to the point where he was hungry. He was now forced to look for a job, and as we will see, he took whatever job he could get.
I have often heard broken fellowship referred to as being out in "hog country". We can and do sin AFTER we are born again. For many years, I did not understand why broken fellowship was related to being out in "hog country" by many of my fellow believers until I examined this parable more closely.
In Biblical times, the Judeans by religion never touched or ate any swine flesh. That was just about as low as one could get. They would not eat it, nor would they take care of swine. It was only the Gentile unbelievers who ever had any hogs.
Here was a son of a father who got so low that he had to touch the untouchable. He was in such a desperate position that he went to work for a citizen of that country who had hogs or swine.
Luke 15: 16 -- And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
Bishop K. C. Pillai taught us some great truths about Eastern culture. Pigsties were never inside a city -- they were always outside of the city. The reason for this was due to the smell. Furthermore, they were on the side of town where the prevailing winds would blow the smell away from the town or city. A person who fed the pigs was always counted as one of the pigs! When the master reported that he had a certain number of pigs, he always included the caretaker who took care of the pigs. The reason that the son ate the husks that the swine ate was because he was considered a swine himself. Therefore he lived with the hogs and he ate with them.
Can a Son of God get this down and out after being born again of God's Spirit? Yes, he can. If he gets out of fellowship, he then can live in hog country until that son finally comes to his senses. In this parable, that is what we see happened next. This was a great day. Watch the next six words:
Luke 15: 17a -- And when he came to himself, . . . . .
The son finally realized that he did not have to continue feeding hogs, but that he had an opportunity to return to his father. At some time in everyone's life, we have to face up to ourselves and sometimes this is very difficult to do. If God has no place in your life and you are not renewing your mind to His Word, then you realize that life is rotten within and you know it is true. Actually, the moment you realize this is truly a great day in your life. Remember this when sharing God's Word with others. Unless the person you are witnessing to is at this point in their lives, they will simply not listen to a word you have to say. They will still be feeding hogs every day but they think they're feeding the best black Aberdeen Angus steers.
Luke 15: 17, 18 -- And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I [his son] perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
Notice how tremendous this is when you examine the words that the son spoke. In verse 18, the first two words are "I will". Until people, by their own free will decide to make their best effort to renew their mind to God's Word, and to stay in fellowship with Him, they are going to stay in hog country. They are going to live below par and manifest everything except a life which is more than abundant. The son said "I will rise" and this was his decision. Notice how he rehearsed everything that he was going to say -- he had it all figured out. He was going to also say to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and before thee”. The word "heaven" is a figure of speech called metonymy where heaven is referring to God. "I have sinned against God and before you." Watch what else he rehearsed.
Luke 15: 19 -- And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
At times, we are at a very low point in life before we turn to God. Why does it have to be that way? It seems like very difficult times makes us realize that we can't do it on our own, but that we need help from our Heavenly Father. Sometimes it seems that it is man's nature to forget God when things are going well. We should strive to be disciplined enough to go to God every day -- even more so when things are going well. This gives us a chance to be more thankful and more joyful in our fellowship with our Heavenly Father.
In our parable, we see that the son had quite a change of heart. He was now quite humble, wasn't he? He had plans to tell his father that he was not even worthy to be called his son. In fact, he would have been happy and blessed just to be made one of his father's hired servants. Remember way back in verse 12 when he spoke to his father right before he left home, he said: "give me". Now he is saying to his father in verse 19 "make me". The son has had quite a change of heart, wouldn't you say so? Although negative circumstances and situations are not sent by the true God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God can turn that negative situation around allowing you to learn an invaluable and permanent lesson.
In verse 18, he said "I will" and in verse 20 he got up and did it:
Luke 15: 20 -- And he arose, and came to his father. But [in contrast] when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Remember that the son came back by his own free will. You can never make a person get back in fellowship. He has to want to come back to God on his own.
Also, what is so tremendous about this record is that the Father saw the son while he was a great way off. What this indicates is that the Father must have been watching and waiting for his son to return. This is what God does with us when we are out of fellowship. He watches and he waits and he yearns for us to return to Him. This son took everything that the father had given him and he wasted it. But every single day, the father stood looking down the road in the distance. Isn't that a beautiful record?
When the father saw the son, what is the first thing that he did? He ran and he threw his arms around him and he kissed him. He did not yell at him and he didn't criticize him in any way. He didn't call him a backslider or yell at him because he lived like the devil. He simply loved him . . . . and then begins this great dialogue. Remember, the son had all of this rehearsed.
Luke 15: 21, 22a -- And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven [God], and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, . . . . . .
His father never let him finish his sentence! The son had done all that rehearsing for nothing. He knew that his son had made an error and that his son was able to recognize that error. He didn't have to wait for his son to finish what he was going to say. He simply forgave him for what he did. This is the same thing that we need to do when we get out of fellowship with God. All we need to do is to recognize and confess that we have made an error and God forgives us. The book of I John is written to those who are walking on the Word. The subject of the first chapter is fellowship. Let's take a look at one most important verse.
I John 1: 9 -- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This applies to believers after they are saved. Now back to the parable.
Luke 15: 22 -- But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
Surely we can see the great love of this father for his son. This is a great example of a loving and forgiving Father. The ring gave the son authority, and the sandals on his feet gave him the fellowship back in the family. There was not a servant who had a ring or sandals. The servant always goes without the authority of the ring and he also goes barefooted.
Luke 15: 23, 24 -- And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
In verse 14, we recall that the son was in want. Now he is back with his father, and they began to be merry. You are never at home until you are with the Lord Jesus Christ and in fellowship with God our Heavenly Father. As long as you stay in fellowship with God, you will be blessed.
Luke 15: 25, 26, 27 -- Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he [the servant] said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
And how did his brother react to this news? He started to jump up and down and say "Praise the Lord". NO! His brother was actually angry with the situation. Can you imagine his own brother not being blessed? He was angry and he was jealous of his younger brother. Let us see from the Word what the older brother had to say.
Luke 15: 28 -- And he [the older brother] was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
[Remember that Jesus Christ is addressing the scribes and Pharisees. While Jesus Christ was helping the sinners and receiving them with open arms, the scribes and the Pharisees murmured against him. In this parable, the older son is murmuring against his younger brother even though his father has accepted back the younger son with open arms and with a heart of forgiveness.]
Luke 15: 29, 30 -- And he [the older brother] answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son [notice how he says "this thy son" and not "this thy brother"] was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
Here we can see just how dangerous human emotions can be. When we discipline our mind to God's Word, we keep these emotions under control. In this parable, we can easily see that the older brother was not only angry, but he was jealous. These emotions made him look foolish, didn't they? Here was a son who had everything that the father had. He could have gone into the barn at any time and gotten himself two fatted calves if he wanted to. But he was still complaining -- he was finding fault and criticizing wherever he could. You can only imagine how hurt the father must have felt to see his older son acting this way. What did his father say to him?
Luke 15: 31a -- And he said unto him, Son, . . . .
Here was some father. At this time of hurt, he still used a word of affection, a word of love, a word of tenderness -- the father said unto him "Son".
Luke 15: 31, 32 -- And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet [it was absolutely necessary, a requirement] that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
Notice how wise the father was and how carefully he chose his words. In verse 30, the older son said to the father "this thy son". But the father said to that son, "this thy brother". Then they had a great big celebration and a wonderful party.
If you look at the parable honestly, this son who stayed home lived in a manner that was more harmful than the son who went out and lived in hog country. The elder son had everything at his disposal, but he was resentful; he was bitter. That is why it should not be referred to as the parable of the prodigal son since both were prodigal. We have called this record in God's Word "The Parable of the Forgiving Father". It is a story of an all compassionate, all loving, all redeeming, gracious and forgiving father.
From the moment that we are born again of God's Spirit, we are God's sons. If we live in sin, in hog country, we must, by our own free will, get up and go back to the arms of God by confessing our broken fellowship to Him. At the moment you make up your mind to go back to His arms, the Father sees you coming from a great distance, and so often He never lets you finish your story. He interrupts you and says "Come on home and we will kill the fatted calf, and put a ring of authority on your finger, and sandals on your feet." That is the greatness and forgiveness of our Heavenly God and Father. This parable is one of the most beautiful illustrations in the Word of God in regards to God's love and forgiveness for His children.