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Sermon – Luke 15:11-32 – Parable of the Two Lost Sons and the Gracious Father

Leroy Coote 5th September 2021

Luke 15_11-32 Parable of the Lost Sons - Vicar
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Happy Father’s day to all the fathers that are watching this service today. Let me share some words that are in the dictionary. Dependable, consistent, loving, caring, industrious, comforting, protecting, wise and knowledgeable. There are many of these words that all fathers listening to this sermon can hopefully identify with and have been described by. Throughout today, there are many words that describe fathers that we will discover in our passage today.

In the parable found in Luke 15:11-32, we find that the central character in this parable is not the youngest son which is how the parable is best remembered, but the father. This is emphasised in one commentary that I read in preparation for this sermon, as it called this parable “the parable of the forgiving father”. In saying that, I actually believe that it could also be called the parable of the gracious father given the number of expressions of God’s grace that occur in this passage. I’m going to look at this under the following headings:

· The Father’s grace to his two sons and the cost of being gracious.

· How the younger son treated the father’s graciousness and its effect on him.

· The father’s response to the youngest son’s actions.

· The older son’s response to the younger son and the Father’s response to the older Son.

By the end of today, what will be clear is the gracious character of our God which is expressed in many ways throughout this parable. So let us start with the father’s grace to his two sons and the cost associated with his graciousness. The setting for this parable is Jesus speaking to an audience that contained tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees and teachers of the law as mentioned in verse 1 of Chapter 15. This is a mixture of people who liked Jesus or didn’t like Jesus …with no middle ground. He also spoke two parables to these people about things that were lost followed by great delight when each of the lost items was found. Now he makes it personal when he talks about a lost son who has a gracious father. We see the gracious father displayed in verses 11 and 12.

His grace is expressed by the division of his estate at the request of the younger son. Why is this act gracious? The scenario of estates was that the older son would receive two thirds and the younger son one-third of the estate and this was only to be given to them once their father died. So when the younger son asked for his share of the estate, he was depriving his father of his standard of living. By that action, the son was bringing shame upon his family in the community that they were living in. Why? Because their standard of living was being reduced. Not only that, he was bringing shame on his father before the whole community as well as saying that his father was as good as dead. This was what the youngest son did to his father by asking for the estate to be divided. But the father let it happen because he was a generous and gracious man who wanted his son to have the best start in life. But in doing that, he sacrificed his life because in dividing up his estate, he was also sacrificing his livelihood which was his estate. So, what we see here, is that the Father has expressed significant grace in splitting up his estate for his children which came at significant personal cost to him.

What does the younger son do with his Father’s gracious providence and how did what he did affect him? This is my second point and is found in verses 13-19. Well, it looks like he had a wild time in the distant country. He did his own version of escape to the country except he didn’t buy a property but wasted his inheritance on wild living as mentioned in verse 13. Remember, this is a parable and is therefore, not a true story. However, what Jesus is saying could actually happen to some who are listening. What did the younger son’s wild living result in? He had nothing left – not even anything as a back-up. This has come back to bite him as the distant country was struck by a severe famine and there was no food around. He began to be in need to the point that he was begging for food. This young man had hit the depths of despair. So deep was his despair that he went against his own beliefs to get a job. He did this in verse 15 by hiring himself out to a citizen of a foreign country. However, that was not the only thing he did because the work he was involved in as requested by the foreign citizen was to feed pigs and pigs in Jewish Society were considered an unclean animal and no Jew was allowed to go near a pig. This effectively means that he was working for a gentile and was around unclean animals. This would have brought shame upon him, his family, his community and his culture. This led to the younger son being in despair to the point that he was so hungry that he longed to relieve his hunger by eating pig food but could not get his hands on any. He realised that he was at rock bottom and resolved to return to his father and ask him to take him back just as one of his hired servants and not his son.

In effect, he is saying to his father, I do not deserve to be your son. Given that Jesus was telling this parable to a group that contained Pharisees and teachers of the law, they would have expected the father to wipe the son from the face of the earth and not take him back at all. That would have been the expectation from most of the audience listening to Jesus tell this parable. But what did the father do? He did the unexpected or the unfamiliar – He took him back in a big way. In other words, he did not respond as the law would have expected him to do but responded with grace which is my third point. In the section from the middle of verse 20 to the end of verse 24, we see the father’s gracious response to his son. The father saw his son from a long way off and was filled with compassion as mentioned in verse 20. He was so filled with compassion that he ran to greet his son and put his dignity aside as father figures did not hitch up their clothing and run. But the emotion of the occasion overtook the father because when he caught up with his son, he threw his arms around him and kissed him. In the original language of the Bible, the words for threw his arms around literally means “fell upon his neck” which indicates how tightly the father hugged his son. But not only that, he kisses him which indicates the father’s acceptance of his son even before his son has said a word.

The emotion expressed in this scene with the father and the son is basic to the love that exists within a family and powerfully portrays the love of God. It is a love that accepts the person based on who he is and not because of his actions and in this case, the love of God is portrayed to one of God’s creations in this parable. The son has been so warmly welcomed back that he hasn’t been able to say his confession as he had planned. He says his confession in verse 21 which then brings out a greater celebration from his father in verse 22 …and this is no small party. Listen to the party preparations from verses 22 and 23, “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.” This returning son is getting the best treatment possible at this time. After all, he is being given the best robe which is the most ornate garment worn and is generally reserved for the grandest formal occasions much like a dinner suit or even a suit – and yes, I do own one. A ring would have meant that his sonship had returned and more often than not, the ring would have contained a family seal. The sandals would have completed his clothing as he would have been barefooted as a result of his travails. The youngest son is now clothed and now he is ready to feast and it was going to be a big feast because the father was bringing out the fattened calf which was the biggest animal that they could get for a celebratory feast. The time to celebrate is now.

But why? Listen to these words in verse 24, “24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ The son was dead to him as he had wandered off with his share of the inheritance but is now back with his father, he was lost to his father and has now been found by his father …which is similar to all believers in Christ; who were once lost to God but when they repented, were found by the Father. In terms of the father’s response to the son, the father showed grace and compassion when he returned but he also celebrated when he repented and turned from his sin. When the father celebrated, it was pretty significant and vibrant as the party noise was heard by the older son when he approached the house. This is the first interaction that we have had with the older son since the start of the parable where we are made known that he exists.

Here we find how the older son responds to the return of the younger son and how the father responds to his older which is the fourth and final section of this passage. The older son had approached the house. However, he didn’t end up going into the house himself as he got one of his servants to find out what was going on as mentioned in verse 26. In a way, this action signified that he was fearing his reaction when he went into the house. The servant told him that his brother who split the estate in the first place has come back. Not only that, your father has killed the fattened calf because he has returned safe and sound. The servant has spelt out the facts to the older son. How then did the older son react in this situation? He became angry and refused to go into the house. In effect, he cut himself off from the celebration that was taking as a result of the return of his younger brother. There is also a sense that he is cutting himself off from his family much like his younger brother did when took his share of the estate. The father saw his anger and went out to plead with him and dare I say it, ask him to come in and celebrate the return of his brother with him. Again, he went out to meet the older son just like he did when the younger son returned. But the older brother’s anger spilt over in verses 29–30.

He starts by pleading his case in that he has served his master all this time and never disobeyed the orders of his father, which is effectively him following the law much like the Pharisees. The older son has followed the law and was never even given a young goat to celebrate with his friends. The young goat signifies the smallest animal that was cooked up at a feast. The older son then turns his anger towards the fact that his younger brother had returned and was given the fattened calf by his father whom he addressed as this son of yours which says that he is not his brother and therefore not accepting both the repentance and return of his brother. In other words, the older brother is reflecting the Pharisees lack of acceptance of sinners. How did the father respond to this tirade? He said that he was always with him implying that he loved his older son the same way as he loved his younger son. He then reminds his older son of the reason for the celebration which was his youngest son was dead and then alive and also, he was lost and is found. In effect, the youngest was dead to both of them, but now to the father, he is alive again. However, to the oldest son, the youngest son is still dead as he is now a sinner because of his wild living. Therefore, to the Pharisees, he is dead according to their understanding of the law.

Again, we see that the father is gracious in all his dealings with the angry older son and didn’t lose his cool which some are prone to do when people get angry at them. So how do we see the father’s character displayed throughout this passage given that he is the central character of the parable? All in all, the father expressed his grace:

· Through sacrificial generosity at personal cost.

· Through compassion to his youngest son.

· Through celebration once his son repented and was now found.

· Through listening to his oldest son while he was angry.

What we see spelt out in this wonderful passage, is a godly model of fatherhood. Whilst many focus on the return of the younger son, the main focus is on the way the father responds with great graciousness in all the situations he finds himself in this parable. May God bless all fathers with the gifts to model their fatherhood on the father in Luke 15:11-32! Amen.


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