JAMES ADETORO MINISTRY


Keeping the Faith, Sharing the Faith and Praying for Harvests


THE SCANDALOUS GRACE OF GOD


THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL GOD

Text: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32      

Introduction:

Several titles have been given to this greatest parable in the Gospel by the interpreters. The tradition calls it the parable of the prodigal son. When it was realized that the Bible never calls the younger son prodigal son, the interpreters changed gear. They now call it variously as:

  1. The parable of the Lost Son, which is actually the correct title, in line with the other two parable in this chapter—the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
  2. The parable of the Gracious Father
  3. The parable of the Compassionate Father
  4. The Parable of the Father’s Love or the Loving Father.
  5. The Parable of the Bereaved Father
  6. The Parable of the Waiting Father
  7. The Parable of the Wonderful Father
  8. The Parable of the Two Sons
  9. The parable of the Father and His Three Sons, which is the most outlandish title because it includes the Parabilizer (Jesus) in the story.
  10. The Parable of the Unforgiving Brother.   And lastly, 
  1. THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL GOD, which is my preference.

So much for the introduction. Open your Bible to Luke Chapter 15.

This man (Jesus) “receives sinners and eats with them.”  This is abomination. Surely, this man could not have come from God as he claims. The sinners are the tax collectors, the poor, the crippled, the prostitutes, the blind and the lame. The tax collectors were hated by their fellow Jews. Dishonesty among the tax collectors was the rule. The tax collectors were often associated with the prostitutes. The tax collectors and the prostitutes are considered the notoriously wicked by the Pharisees.

And who are the Pharisees and the scribes: The Pharisees are the “specifiers” of the correct understanding of the divine requirement. They are primarily concerned with the preservation of ritual purity for the eating of ordinary meals. Pharisees were drawn from all classes of Jewish society. Apostle Paul describes himself in Philippians 3:5 as “a Hebrew of the Hebrew; concerning the law, a Pharisee.” 

The Scribes were:

  1. The interpreters and preservers of the Law
  2. Teachers of the Law
  3. Lawyers and judges of the people
  4. The theologians and guardians of the tradition.

In the parable of the lost son Jesus defends his association with sinners by arguing in effect that God is even now demonstrating His love to the most profligate, completely and shamelessly immoral, recklessly wasteful, of His people.

The two-fold purpose of this parable is:

  1. Christ’s love and compassion for sinners
  2. His rebuke of the Pharisees and scribes for their severe criticism of the sinners.

THE SUFFERING FATHER OR THE INDULGENT FATHER?: v. 11-12. What sort of a father is this? While he is still alive the younger came to ask for his own share of the legacy. According to ancient Jewish Law of Inheritance, if there were but two sons, the elder would receive two portions, the younger the third of all the property. A man could, during his life time, dispose of all his property by gift if he chooses. The younger son was entitled by law to his share, though he had no right to claim it during his father’s lifetime. This prodigally, recklessly loving father yielded to the son’s demand and divided his material assets between the two brothers.  To shock his listeners, Jesus allows this rebellion son to claim his legacy and wanders off to a far, distant country, not to invest it but to waste it, to squander it on loose lifestyle.  The father loves his son too much to restrain him. God forces nobody. Did the son know he broke his father’s heart? The father is seen suffering for the loss of his son. When a son is lost, who suffers most? The son who is lost, or the father who has lost him?  Do we know when we break God’s heart?  We do just that every time we turn our backs on God, resist His control, refuse His guidance, and renounce His goodness as the source of our lives.

PLEASURE AND PAIN OF EXTRAVAGANT LIFE:  vv. 13- 19.

The stupidity of independence: vv. 13-16. He went to a far country to be free from paternal control. The younger son wanted to get lost. He did not want to be discovered by anyone he knew.  The far, distant country is what Augustine called “forgetfulness of God” and Paul described as “alienated from the life of God.”  The far country is the realm of rebellion.  It is a condition of the soul. It may be a total rejection of a faith that was once warm and dynamic.  What is your far country? The lost son of the parable is too often the easy characterization of the scum of the society—drunks, drug addicts, sexual perverts, criminals in our jails.  These people are easy to identify as those who squander their inheritance of life. Many of us are not squanderers with problems, but just wanderers from our potential.

Delusions of greatness: Everything he has came from his father. His possessions, money, clothes, shoes, food, drink, and shelter over his head. Even the fair-weather friends who were at his becks and calls are not his own. These possessions give him delusions of greatness.  Many of us are like this rebellious son. Everything we have came from our Heavenly Father—our energy and ambition, our highly developed reason, our capabilities to make wealth, our technical know-how, our jobs and professions. These are all things which our Father in Heaven has given us. But we use them without Him. 

Be that as it may be, before long he lavished his inheritance on extravagant life style, and to crown his misfortunes the land of his adoption was visited with severe famine. This situation provides his fair-weather friends a good excuse not to help him in the days of his adversity (v. 14).

v.15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine (pigs).

The Jews listening to Jesus must have shuddered at these words, for to a Jew there could not be a greater depth of debasement. Feeding pigs is one of the loathsome and degrading of all tasks and eating pigs’ food is a mark of deep poverty. The Rabbis had these sayings: “Cursed is the man who rears swine, . . . ”  “When the Israelites are reduced to eating carob-pods, then they repent.”

Extreme hardness induced reflection: vv.17-19. The restoration of the rebellion son begins when he first realises the wretchedness of his condition, when he sees himself as he really is.  He came to himself, that is, he came to his senses.  The son in poverty in the far country contrasts his own condition with that of the humblest members of his father’s household at home. “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to eat and to spare, and I PERISH WITH HUNGER. The Rabbis had a saying: “When a son (abroad) goes barefoot (through poverty) then he remembers the comfort of his father’s house.” The famine around him eventually forced him to realize the famine in his soul without his father.  He resolved to make an end of his lostness. I will return to my father and confess my sin. I have sinned against heaven. I have sinned heaven-high. I have heaped up transgression upon transgression till the sum of my sin is monstrous. Remember Psalm 51:3-4: For I know my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight. So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.

Father I have behaved disgracefully. I admit that by my behaviour I forfeited all my rights as a son. In fact, a father like you deserves better than a son like me. Father, make me like one of your hired servants. Strict justice would disown him as a son; but perhaps mercy will accept him as a servant. A pitiful end to his search for autocracy. The rebellious son is going home in rags, empty-handed, haggardly-looking, malnourished and barefooted.

THE BOUNDLESS JOY OF THE FATHER vv. 20 – 24

While he was yet a long way off, his father saw him.  He saw him; he saw his lost son!!! The father never stopped praying for this day. The father did what the rebellious son never expected his father would have done. He jumped unto his feet in excitement and ran to meet his hungry, ragged, footsore boy. He “ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” v.20.  What a prodigal love! The father knows only one emotion, pity for his son in his wretched condition. What a glimpse we have here into the heart of God. Throwing away Jewish tradition, Jesus had the father run to his son in order to show God’s love, joy, and eagerness to receive repentant sinners. God kissed the past into forgetfulness. God kissed my past into forgiveness. God kissed your past into forgiveness.

This prodigal father is so eager to receive his rebellious son that the young man cannot complete his prepared speech. The father’s love is stronger than the son’s sense of unworthiness.

vv.22-24:  “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.

The returned homesick son instead of being treated as a servant is received as a guest of honour. The articles ordered by the father are more than mere necessities. Joy that has come back outweighs all else. 

  1. The best robe in the house meant that the son was reinstated to his original position and rights. The best robe is symbolic of the garment or covering of righteousness which the repentant, believing sinner receives from God.
  2. The ring is the symbol of the union of heart father and son experienced. Through the ring the father bestows his authority upon his son.
  3. Sandals on his feet to show that his son would not be treated as a servant. Servants go about barefooted.
  4. The fatted calf, which was specifically fed and kept for special occasions, indicates a great feast in celebration of the lost son.

The son did not have to go and wash himself before the best robe was put on him.

THE SCANDAL OF GRACE: vv. 25-32.

 I prefer to call this parable the Parable of the Prodigal God. However, after reading and meditating on this parable daily for almost one month I was tempted to entitled this sermon The Parable of the Scandalous Grace of God, because I saw the scandal of grace flew into my face from the lines of this story and also in sympathy with elder brother.  Who will be so callous and not sympathise with the elder brother? Indeed, our God is so graciously compassionate, for Jesus Christ said: there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The word “scandal” is defined as “discredit brought upon religion by unseemly conduct in a religious person”; “conduct that causes or encourages a lapse of faith or religious obedience in another”; “indignation, annoyance or bewilderment brought about by a flagrant violation of morality or religious opinion”; “damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety.”

As the joyful celebration was in full swing the elder brother was approaching home from a long day in the fields. He could not fathom the cause of this sound of music and laughter he was hearing. He sent for one of his father’s servants to clarify things before he enter the house. The servant did not mince a word: “Your brother has come back. Your father is welcoming him with a big party.”  “You got to be kidding me”, the elder brother retorted. This is scandalous. I would not have any part in this scandal.

The younger brother refused to go in. Read with me from vv. 25ff

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

There is no doubt that Jesus wanted the murmuring Pharisees and scribes to see themselves in the picture of the elder brother.  Jesus rebukes the proud, sullen, cold, self-righteous attitude of the Scribes and Pharisees in the figure of the elder brother.

The elder son cannot share in the joy of his father, just as the Pharisees and scribes would not share in the boundless joy of God’s forgiveness of the repentant sinners.

The elder brother judges his younger brother. (The elder brother is outraged by all that his younger brother has squandered, just as the Pharisees and scribes were outraged by Jesus’ reception of sinners and eating with them.)

The elder brother dissociates himself from his rebellious brother. (This son of yours has come back. . .) It is hard for the Pharisees and scribes to realize that all their self-righteousness are but the filthy rags of a wayward younger brother in God’s sight.

This parable makes two main points:

  1. The care and patience of God towards the sinner and the joy with which the repentant sinner is received.
  2.  Jesus rebukes the harsh and censorious attitude taken up by the righteous towards the sinners.

But I want us to note this:

“One who receives grace cannot be intolerant or arrogant toward the ungodly.”

Apostle Paul reminds us in his Epistle to the Ephesians:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesian 2: 8-10)