I would like to share some observations about the SETBACK and COMEBACK of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
1. He chose to dishonor his father and the rest of his family.
2. He chose the far country.
3. He chose to squander what he had graciously been given.
Each one of these choices set him up for failure, set him up for a setback.
Let’s start by talking about how he chose to dishonor his father and the rest of his family. It struck me as I read the story again that the son had everything he needed in the father’s house. He wasn’t hungry in the father’s house. He wasn’t doing hard labor in the father’s house. The story tells us they had servants who worked for them. He wasn’t worried about having a roof over his head while he was in the father’s house. He wasn’t without people who cared for him while he was in the father’s house. Listen, everything he needed, he possessed, while he was in the father’s house.
But contentment and gratitude weren’t his strong suits, and he allowed his heart to long for and lust after the things of the world. His preoccupation with doing life his own way led to choices that dishonored his family. Asking for the inheritance was the first dishonoring decision. Pursuing the sinful activities he chose to pursue which led him to poverty and a whole lot of regret was also dishonoring to his father and the rest of his family. But his mind was made up. Pursuing pleasure was more important in that moment than the people God had given him to love and be loved by, and so, he was off.
Secondly, the Prodigal Son chose the far country. That is the way the King James Version puts it. He journeyed to a far country.
He chose to disconnect from his family and to go far enough away that he could do what he wanted to do and think that news could never travel back home. Maybe he thought, “I will keep walking until I can settle with people who aren’t anything like the people I grew up with.” Maybe his goal was to get as far away from home, as far away from his upbringing as possible. I do not know exactly how far this far country was, but it had to be far enough away that while there was famine in the far country, there was no lack back home. They were at least that distant because at one point the Scripture indicates that there was plenty of food back in his father’s house, so the famine wasn’t affecting his family’s area.
Think of the far country this way: It is a place the young man hadn’t known. It wasn’t home. He was a stranger there. He had not been raised according to the customs and cultures of the far country. His new lifestyle may have been synonymous with those in the far country, but careless, immoral life was not the way he had been raised.
The “far country” simply represents a life that is separated from the life that God has for us. It isn’t so much about distance as it is about the decision of our will and the direction we choose for our life. The far country isn’t just a place of exploration or experimentation, but it represents the willful turning of our back on God and the calculated decision to run our lives on our own and to participate in the darkness of sin.
A trip to the far country will distort the truth, rob you of your self-worth, steal your dignity, crush your goals and ambitions and leave you at the mercy of others. And in the case of the Prodigal Son, no one would help him. Verse 16 says he was hungry, and no one would give him anything to eat. Oh, when he was spending his dad’s money, when he was throwing the parties and having a good time with the temporary pleasures of the world, he may have had lots of friends. Afterall, he was the new guy in town, and he had money to burn. Listen, lots of people are willing to come around when you are the one funding the party. But when his money was gone, so were his new friends. I wonder how long he actually went without food. Who knows what other needs he had that were also going unmet?
Third, he chose to squander what he had graciously been given.
The English word, “prodigal” means “wastefully extravagant.” He had blown through his resources. There was no one to blame for his situation but himself. Not only had this young man dishonored his family and had gone into a sinful lifestyle, but he had wasted all of the resources he had been given. He had nothing left.
Here is what I know…God has given us talents and resources that are meant to be used at His direction for His glory and our fulfillment, but when we choose the far country and when we direct how our resources will be used, they will be wasted rather than invested in the ways God would desire.
Well, it was his need, his hunger, his vulnerability that brought him to his senses, verse 17, and helped him understand he didn’t belong there. Verse 17 says he came to his senses. He woke up to the fact that he had taken himself out of the best place for him. He didn’t belong in the far country. He belonged at home where there was provision. He belonged at home where there was grace. He belonged at home where there was relationship. And he decided to go back home.
Here is verse 20: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
I can just picture the father almost tackling the son! I wonder what went through the son’s mind when he saw his father charging towards him. He probably thought, “Here it comes. I am going to get what I deserve. My dad is about to pulverize me.” Oh, he had already convinced himself it wouldn’t be pretty, but the complete opposite happened as his dad embraced him, kissed him and welcomed him home.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
I can almost see the father putting his hand over the son’s mouth to shush him while he began to instruct his servants:
22 “‘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. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Boom. His COMEBACK was immediate and complete. He left in dishonor and shame and he came home celebrated as if he was coming home a hero. His identity as a son was immediately restored. He came home with nothing and found everything he needed again in the Father’s house.
We can all think of a time when we have gone our own way, when we have struck out on our own and distanced ourselves from God. Some have made that journey to try to get away as far as possible. Regardless of how far we have gone or how long we have been away, we can all come home today. Here is the bottom line: Everything we need is in our Father’s house. Come on home today.