Luke 15 - The Loving Father
*All scripture read from NKJV unless otherwise noted
In Luke chapter 15 we are given one of the most beautiful illustrations of our Father’s heart for us, we know it as
“The Parable of the Prodigal Son”.
I find it interesting that while we call it “The Story of the Prodigal Son”, in 19th century Scotland it became popularly known as “The Story of the Loving Father”. What an interesting yet powerful contrast. We so often focus on the darkness, the misdeeds, the foley of the young son, and allow those transgressions to overshadow the beauty of the love of the father.
Is this not what we do in our own lives beloved? We allow the testimonies of our sins cry louder than the testimony of the magnificent love of our Father, and quite often find ourselves wallowing in the mire of shame in much the same way as the son wallowed in the mire of pigs.
So let’s revisit the fifteenth chapter of Luke and look just a little deeper into the heart of the father.
The first thing often overlooked, I believe, is found straightaway with in the first 5 words of verse 11:
“Then He said: “A certain man…”
Notice that Jesus calls him a certain man. in the greek, this word “τις” not only means a particular person but carries with it the connotation of someone important.
Jesus could have called him an abusive man, an unjust man, a middle-class man, an absent-minded man, a scornful man… all these things would justify the son's upcoming actions. He could have just said a man with a couple of sons and left it to our imaginations and let us assume there was a reason for this young boy to stray, but no… our Savior is always very clear with the direction He wishes to take us if we just stop and listen. He calls this man, a CERTAIN man. This man was important. He had wealth, power, prestige. Later in verse 16, the son's thoughts of how his father treats his servants shows us just how generous and gracious this man truly was.
We can see that this young man had no obvious reason to want to walk away. It’s easy to assume that his every reasonable desire was granted to him without hesitation by his father. It was his pride, his desire to “prove” himself, to make his own name.
To my fellow brothers and sisters. Let that sink in. Many of us, especially in ministry desire to make our own name. We work hard we toil and for what scripture says (Psalms 127:2) Why would we even consider trading His name for ours?
Verse 12 tells us that the son asks for his portion and his father does not hold back. It would have been easy for the father to say no. All to easy to protest the son's actions by withholding the resources that allowed him wander off and fail. But there is no love in that. Justice… sure, logic… absolutely, wisdom… arguably yes, but love… decidedly not. In love we find freedom.
Scripture tells us in 1 John 4:8 that God is love and 2 Corinthians 3:17 lets us know that where God is there is freedom. In this love, His love, we find freedom.
I do not claim to know why bad things happen to good people, I cannot preach that I understand why evil can take its toll on the most innocent of us. I can’t even begin to offer some neatly packaged explanation for why God doesn’t just stop certain people and events from happening. But I do know that He has given us free will. This is not just a flippant excuse, this is the truth, that in true love, pure love, His love… there is absolute freedom. Absolute freedom is a scary thing, for it does allow for failure and sin of all nature, but this is truth we see within this verse.
Notice it says in verse 16:
“So he divided to them his livelihood.”
Divided to THEM. This again is an illustration of pure love and absolute freedom. The younger son was the one that asked for his portion, yet the father freely gave to both. What happened to the eldest sons? I believe he is a wonderful illustration of what our response to this absolute freedom and love should be. I believe he gave it back to his father.
1 Corinthians 6:12 says:
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
This doesn’t mean the eldest son is perfect. Yes, we see later in verse 29 we see that he has a moment of weakness, he gets frustrated and questions the father’s actions. But I believe that in verse 16 that eldest son knew his father’s heart and chose to give his portion back says “You have always provided for me, you have given me all that I need, you are wiser than me… take this back and continue to guide me and provide for me.
There is also a piece of vital information revealed to us in this heated conversation between the father and eldest son. Verse 30:
“But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots…”
The older son knew exactly what had gone on with his younger brother. My question to you is do you think that if the older brother knew the details of his sibling's life that the father was aloof and ignorant of these things? No, remember this was a certain man. Hebrews 13:5 tells us that our Father will never leave us or abandon us.
“If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.” Psalms 139:8
This father never let his son out of his heart or his sight. A man of such importance probably had servants and messengers constantly bringing him word. “Is my son ok? How is he? Is he coming home?” Oh, how it broke the father’s heart to hear the path his son was choosing. How it breaks our Father’s heart to watch us stray from His path and try to make our own name… never absent from the details. Always with us and yet never forsaking us.
Most of us are in some way familiar with how the middle part of the story of the son plays out. He goes off to another country, parties wildly, spends, and wastes all his money. A famine strikes the land that he has chosen to reside in and he finds work feeding pigs, starving to death, and only before his absolute demise does he decide to return home.
Starting in verse 20:
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here 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.”
Look at the father’s actions, many of them are so small in written words but will become so vast in-depth and meaning when closely looked at.
The father saw His son before the son saw him. The prophets, psalmists, and apostles all tell us repeatedly how God has seen us before we were born and even conceived.
Jeremiah 1:5, Psalms 139:16, Isaiah 49:5, Ephesians 1:4, and Galatians 1:15 are just a few that call to us saying… I have always known you my child.
This father wasn’t just waiting for his son's return, he was expecting it! He was preparing himself every day for the day when it would happen. Your Father is the same. He isn’t just waiting for you to repent and come home, no He has already prepared all of heaven for that glorious day. He has His eyes focused on you, yes just you! He has a plan for that very moment. Look see how it is with the father.
Verse 20 tells us the father ran to meet him, that’s powerful in itself but if you realize who Jesus was talking to and the culture of that time… it will blow your mind to see the love of this father. You see, the father shouldn’t have run.
In the first century, a Middle Eastern man never — Never — NEVER — ran. If he were to run, he would have to hitch up his tunic so he would not trip. If he did this, it would show his bare legs. In that culture, it was humiliating and shameful for a man to show his bare legs.
So, here’s the question: If it was shameful for a man to run in that culture, why did the father run when his son returned to him? What motivated him to shame himself? Before we answer that question, we have to understand an important first-century Jewish custom called kezazah.
You see if a Jewish son lost his inheritance among Gentiles, and then returned home, the community would perform a ceremony, called the kezazah. They would break a large pot in front of him and yell, “You are now cut off from your people!” The community would totally reject him.
So, why did the father run? He runs in order to get to his son before he entered the village. The father runs — and shames himself — in an effort to get to his son before the community gets to him, so that his son does not experience the shame and humiliation of their taunting and rejection.
The village would have followed the running father, they would have witnessed what took place at the edge of the village between father and son. After this emotional reuniting of the prodigal son with his father, it was clear that there would be NO kezazah ceremony; there would be NO rejecting this son — despite what he has done.
This is what your Father wants you to understand. John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
God shamed Himself in the form of His own Son, in front of the whole of the world. He ran for you, raced to meet you right where you are at. He declared that there would be NO rejecting THIS child. Not now! NOT EVER!
Look further in scripture and witness the next actions of the father. It says he fell upon his son's neck and kissed him. This son had lived the most debaucherous life. He then lived with pigs for who knows how long. He was starved and almost dead. But the father wholly embraced him and kissed his nasty nearly rotting flesh.
Your Father doesn’t care what you have done, how bad you think you’ve missed it. He longs for the day He can fall upon you and kiss you. No showering first, no need to clean up. He’s running toward you and wants you just as you are. Will you not let His grace and mercy fall upon you?
The next thing the father does is to command his servants to bring out a robe, rings, and shoes. These were not just clothes but symbols of sonship, power, and prestige. More than likely the son had already left with rings and robes from his family. Symbols of who he was and where he came from. But odds are in his desperation he pawned them. He sold his rightful claim to being the child of a powerful family. This is most likely why he was so set on returning as a servant. He believed he had pawed of his inheritance, his future.
Your Father doesn’t care how far away you have gone. You may think you have wasted the best years of your life in sin and shame but our Wonderful Father sees you only as His child. He will restore the wasted years and restore your soul. (Joel 2:25)
Next, the father says these words
“And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry”
As I said before the father was expecting the son to return. He had a plan for this very day, this precise moment. He didn’t have to fatten the calf up… didn’t have to go buy a calf for a day of celebration. It was already there. This father was already past reconciliation and was planning for REDEMPTION.
Notice the father cuts off his son's pleas for reconciliation in verse 21 and in verse 22 starts the redemption of his child.
Your Father is already past reconciliation and is just waiting for you to return to redemption. This isn’t about justice, justice would have made the son walk through the town in shame and wait at the door. This is about love. Love made the father run past the shame. Your Father already took care of the justice, He placed it on our blessed Savior’s strong and merciful shoulders, His son Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:24)
This isn’t about fairness, fairness would have been to make the kid work as a servant until he paid everything back. Made him pay for those robes, rings, and sandals. No this is about grace. Grace says here take this, it doesn’t have to make sense it’s yours. (John 1:12)
This is not about us, it’s about our Loving Father
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8