It’s Time for a Comeback, The Prodigal Son
Please go ahead and open your Bibles to Luke 15. Today I am finishing my series called “It’s Time for a Comeback.” Today I want to look with you at the story of the Prodigal Son. As we have done, I want to look at what led to the setback that this unnamed man experienced and then evaluate with you what led to his comeback.
As the story opens, we hear that a man had two sons and the baby of the family, the younger son, went to his dad and asked for his share of the estate. Can we just talk about that for a minute? Who does that? Who asks for an inheritance from someone before the person passes? How would the father feel about that request? Now it was legal for the son to ask such in that culture, but it wasn’t loving. How about that for a sermon before the sermon? Just because something is “legal” doesn’t mean it is loving. I could spend the rest of our time on that little nugget, but I will restrain myself. Anyway, we get a sense from the beginning of this story that the guy was not thinking appropriately about how his actions would impact those who had loved and cared for him his entire life.
When we make decisions with no regard for how others will be impacted, we are setting ourselves up for a setback.
Who knows what preceded this event? Perhaps tension had been building at home. Perhaps there had been smaller moments of rebellion that had boiled up to this one giant event. Maybe the father had done all he could do to love and train and nurture the son and he knew that the only way for the young man to find his way was to cut him loose. I don’t know, but the father went ahead gave him his share of the inheritance.
The NIV translation says in verse 13 that the boy took all he could carry including whatever his father had given him and he set out for a distant country. While there, he squandered his wealth in wild living. All of his wealth was wasted…gone on pleasure seeking, thrills, chills and adventure including all kinds of immoral behavior which you can read about in verse 30.
As he finds himself out of money, the country where he had gone to party went through a famine, and verse 14 says he began to be in need. Let me just say that the recognition of a need could be the precursor to a comeback. He at least admitted the need to himself. So, he hired himself out in order to get some money so that he could take care of himself, but the only job he could find was a job feeding pigs. This is extra significant because pigs were detestable to Jewish people. They had laws against eating pork. He didn’t just land a bad job; he landed the worst possible job a Jew could get. Verse 16 says that he was so hungry that the pig food was appetizing to him. Listen, I like to eat, but I would have to be absolutely beyond desperate to think that pig slop would look good or that it would taste good if I ate it. No amount of chocolate sauce could make pig slop palatable to me. Apparently, he wasn’t even able to sneak any of the pig slop and went hungry.
Verse 17 begins, “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
Allow me some observations:
I want to submit you to you the Prodigal Son made some choices that indicated he had lost sight of his blessings. He didn’t realize how good he had it until it was gone.
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.
When our will and our pleasure are more important than the people in our lives, we need to check ourselves because we might be headed for a setback.
2. 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.
I suppose the allure of sin is that we think we are getting to lead our own lives, getting to do what interests or excites us, getting to be in control of our own lives and satisfying our desires. What happens, however, in the end is that as we pursue our so-called freedoms, we become incarcerated. Isn’t that interesting? The further we wander into the far country because we want to live free from anyone else’s control, because we want to live according to our flesh, the more freedom we are actually giving away. The Prodigal Son wanted his freedom to do his own thing. The old-time preachers always used to say that “Sin takes you farther than you want to go and keeps you longer than you want to stay.” Sin becomes our boss, and it isn’t an easy master to satisfy.
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?
I have already alluded to the third choice he made but let me state it because it needs to be said.
3. 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. Heading to the far country can seem thing like a good thing, an adventurous and exciting thing, but it can cause you to lose the ability to think clearly. It can blind you to the truth. It can blind you to the dangers and destruction that are part of the far country experience.
His desperate hunger caused him to go, “Wait a minute. I have an option. There is food in my father’s house. There is lodging and shelter and relationship in my father’s house. Even if I have to go back as a servant of my father, instead of as a son, it would be far better than what this far country has offered me.” 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.
Listen, when the Prodigal Son made the decision to go back home, he was making a decision to start a COMEBACK. Oh, he may not have understood that fully, but that decision to go home to the father’s house was the pivotal moment that set him up for his COMEBACK.
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 learned something new in preparing this. I learned that in the Middle Eastern culture, a man never ran. Ever. Why? If he were to run, he would have to hitch up his tunic to keep him from tripping which would expose his bare legs, and, in that culture, it was humiliating and shameful for a man to show his bare legs.
(The indented paragraphs are taken from the following website article: https://www.unityofrehobothbeach.org/site/the-prodigal-sons-father/)
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.
Kenneth Bailey, author of ‘The Cross and the Prodigal,’ explains that if a Jewish son lost his inheritance among the 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. He would be dead to them…
So, why did the father run? Maybe he ran 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, sees 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, would have witnessed what took place at the edge of the village between father and son. After this emotional reunion of the son with his father, it was clear that there would be no rejecting this son — despite what he has done. The son had returned to the father. The father had taken the full shame that should have fallen upon his son and clearly shown to the entire community that his son was welcome back!
Can we acknowledge that this is what our God has done for us? Jesus Christ, the Mighty God, bore our shame in His body on the cross! Jesus took on our shame, so that we can come home to the Father! Oh, can somebody help me give God some praise this morning? God has come running to us, and He is chasing many of you right now.
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.’
“But, Dad, I walked away from you. And Dad, I dishonored you with the way I chose to live, and Dad, I wasted everything you gave me. I know you wouldn’t want me back as a son, so just make me a servant” to which the father replied, “Let’s party! My boy is home!” And the DJ dropped a beat and the celebration was on. It was like the father was saying, “You experienced partying in the far country, now how about I show you what it is like to party in the father’s house!” Oh, this makes me think of the old Church of God hymn, “There is Joy in the Lord!” Life with God is the ultimate party life and it is the kind of life that gives us life abundant instead of the kind of life that leads to lonely regret.
Verse 24 says, 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.
This story is a parable Jesus told to portray what happens when we walk away from the Father’s house, when we chose to walk away from our Heavenly Father. It reveals what happens when we want to pursue our own passions and the pleasures of this world instead of the patterns God helps us learn when we are in a relationship with Him. It warns of the setback that will occur when we do choose sin, but it also beautifully illustrates the grace, love, mercy and forgiveness of our Heavenly Father who is always willing to welcome us home. Always.
Satan wants to convince some of you today that you cannot ever come home, that you have blown it, that you have damaged the relationship to the point of no return, that you have squandered your life beyond the reach of grace, but I am here to tell you that you can always come home to the Father’s house.
Listen, the ultimate COMEBACK is when a person COMES BACK to the Lord. God is not standing on the porch waiting to scold you. He is not armed with a plan to restore you in increments as you somehow try to prove your worthiness. He does not expect you to work your way back into His good graces. He isn’t looking for you to pay Him back what you have squandered. God’s only agenda is to celebrate your return!
All you have to do in order to initiate your COMEBACK is to recognize your need and make the decision to return. Notice something about the Prodigal’s return with me. When the young man turned to walk back home, he was turning his back on the sinful life he had lived. In walking home, he put distance between himself and that way of life. He chose the kind of life that was synonymous with the Father’s house. That physical, intentional journey was an act of repentance. Yes, he confessed his sin against his father in verse 21, but his return was about more than words. He was willfully, purposely turning his back on the way of life he had pursued and was coming home to the care of the father.
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. Let me reiterate today’s bottom line: Everything we need is in our Father’s house. Come on home today.