Sermon notes: The parable of the prodigal son

Introduction

James Kosta was an IT Consultant who earned $1,500 dollars every month at the age of 13. With an 18 year old girlfriend, pockets full of cash and friends aplenty he began skipping school and staying out late into the night. Then his parents issued him with an ultimatum: If he wanted to live under their roof he had to give it all up and focus on school. Kosta reacted by legally emancipating himself from the custody of his parents.

Very soon, Kosta’s Computer skills attracted the attention of hackers. Together they hacked into major Computer Networks such as General Electric and IBM. At the age of 14 he was arrested by the FBI. Since the emancipation he wasn’t technically a child. So the FBI charged him as an adult and was sentenced to prison for 45 years.

The story didn’t end there. But Kosta’s story reminds me of a well known parable in the Bible which is also called the “Pearl and Crown of all the parables”. This is none other than the parable of the Prodigal Son. Tonight I want to consider the 3 main characters in this parable. The prodigal, his father and the older brother because each one has a very important message for us.

(If these notes were helpful to you please consider leaving your feedback in the comments section at the bottom. It would be a great encouragement to me personally.)

Read Luke 15:11-32

(1) The Prodigal Son

We are introduced to a young man who desired to be independent from his father and asked for his inheritance while the father was still alive. His attitude represents the modern society and the backslidden Christian who believe they don’t need God.

This foolish man was certain he will be better off on his own. Hence after collecting his inheritance, he went to a distant country away from his home. There he squandered his wealth in wild living. Apparently the distant country (NIV) is an area out of bounds for Jews. The prodigal’s journey to that area is a symbol of the modern society which has crossed God’s ethical, moral and religious boundaries and the Christians that are mingled with the world.

His pleasures lasted only for a season because soon he lost everything. There was a severe famine in that land that made the situation worse. Shortly after he found himself with the demeaning job of feeding the Swine (unclean animals for the Jews). No one gave him anything even though he starved because he had fallen so low and become very insignificant. A reminder of the society today and the sorry state it’s in.

He returned to his father because he realized the error of his ways after working for the foreigner for some time. This stage of his life reminds us of the backslidden people who decide to turn from their wicked ways and return to God.

While preparing this sermon I searched the phrase “why do people backslide?” which returned 434,000 results within 0.25 seconds. There are many different reasons why people backslide. But this parable indicates that the outcome is always the same.

(I) To think independently of God is just the beginning of backsliding. It draws us away from God. (Compare Luke 15:11-12 with Isaiah 53:6)

(II) The absence of God, which results from the drifting, leaves a spiritual emptiness in us that worldly pleasures cannot satisfy. (Compare Luke 15:13-14 with Jeremiah 2:13)

(III) The more we struggle to satisfy ourselves, the more we will sink into degrading personal conditions. (Compare Luke 15:15-16 with Revelation 3:17)

Implications

Secular media often buzzes about being self dependent, self sufficient and self reliance. When we look at certain types of so called human rights today, we understand that they are actually sinful desires (gay rights, euthanasia etc.) which contradict God’s standards of living.

I am not saying independent thinking is wrong. There are seasons and reasons in life that we have to think and make decisions independently from our parents, leaders and children. But there are no excuses for thinking independently of God.

A life independent of God is actually a life separate from his love, fellowship and authority. In fact true independence comes only when we totally and voluntarily surrender ourselves to his will.

God is a lover and a liberator, and surrendering brings freedom, not bondage. – Rick Warren

(2) The Father

Some may say the father could have saved himself and his son a plenty of trouble had he not divided his wealth and not allowed the son to wander away from home. But he wanted the prodigal to learn three important lessons.

(I) To be humble.

(II) For him to know that consequences will always follow his actions.

(III) True happiness does not lie in having the things of the world.

Both the son and the father paid a high price for these three lessons but that was worth it.

God is the same. He permits his children to wander away for a season because he is not a cruel slave driver or a bully who uses brute force to coerce us into submission. He doesn’t try to break our will, but woos us to himself, so that we might offer it freely to him. There’s a saying that the Ox will wonder only to the length of the rope. God has permitted a certain length. He knows we will return to our senses once we reach the end of the rope.

Then the father’s reactions to the returning of the prodigal son reveal four important characteristics of God.

(I) He was filled with compassion. Indicates that our God is compassionate for the lost. (Matthew 9:36)

(II) He ordered the servants to put the best robe on his son. God dresses the sinners that come to him, with the robes of his righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10)

(III) He ordered the servants to put a ring on his son’s finger which was a symbol of acceptance to family. God treats people who return to him as his sons rather than his servants. (1 John 3:1)

(IV) He ordered the servants to put sandals on his son’s feet. Only a free man would wear them. Sinners who come to God find everlasting freedom. (John 8:32)

(V) He ordered the servants to kill the fatted calf. In order to save us God will not spare anything, not even his son. (John 3:16)

(VI) He celebrated his son’s return. When a sinner repents there’s great joy among the angels of heaven. (Luke 15:10)

Implications

It’s interesting that some people call this the parable of the prodigal father. The Jewish culture doesn’t permit waiting for the return of rebellious children. Should they return they are to be received and treated as household servants for the rest of their life. (It is for this reason that the prodigal son asked his father to receive him as a servant.) But this parable shows that God is more than happy to receive sinners with forgiveness, love, compassion, grace and the full rights of children, if they return to him sincerely.

3. The older son

The older son (a symbol of the Pharisee and the Scribe) was angry with his father for forgiving and receiving the prodigal son into the family again. His attitude reminds us of two types of Christians in the church.

(I) The self deserving believer – the older son accused the father of not rewarding his upright behavior. There are believers who serve God for the wrong reasons.

(II) The self righteous believer – the older son was confident of his own righteousness and held his brother in contempt. Likewise the self righteous believer believes in his own righteousness and passes judgement on those that he thinks to be wrong. He often seems to forget he is a sinner himself saved by faith.

Implications

In the beginning of this sermon, I mentioned that Kosta was given a prison sentence of 45 years. The Judge however wanted to give him a second chance. He ordered that Kosta be sent to the Juvenile detention centre, instead of a maximum security prison and suspended his sentence on the condition that he will not commit another crime and join the Military when eligible. Kosta was released after a year and joined the Military. Later he was recruited by the US Army, the Navy as well as the CIA to help them trace crimes committed using Computers around the world. Long story short today Kosta runs the multimillion dollar game development firm known as 3G Studios. A huge part of his company is focused on teen mentoring for troubled youth. Kosta will not be who he is today, if it was not for that Judge who gave him a second chance.

As I close this message, let us remember that the body of Christ is the only place where sinners will find their second chance. So let’s not deprive them of that gracious opportunity by being judgmental of them. Instead I want to encourage you to receive those who come to the church family with great joy because we can’t forget the fact we owe our righteousness and salvation to the Lord who loved us and died for us.

Invitation 

The beautiful song “Here I am” by Delirious has these words,

Your grace has found me just as I am
Empty handed but alive in your hands

Tonight, if you admit your need for the savior, I invite you recommit your life to Jesus at this altar. Similar to what happened to the prodigal son, the society may have received you when your hands were full but rejected you the same way when your hands were empty. But God doesn’t care about what you have or don’t. You are always welcome in God’s presence if you accept you are a sinner in need of a savior.

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