The Parable of
the Amazing Father
Jesus was being mocked by the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders because he was spending time with "sinners" instead of the "righteous", such as them. Notice that mocking need not be blatant and loud; it is frequently subtle and largely concealed. In response, Jesus utilizes a few parables to directly address their sentiments. The first...
Jesus makes it clear that his mission, as the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20), is to seek and save the lost. While every sheep is important to the Shepherd, the one who is lost becomes the focus because of need. And having found and saved that lost one, a greater celebration is deserved. In regards to our Great Shepherd: notice that heaven celebrates "more" for the one repentant sinner than over the others who did not need to repent. This implies celebration for the sheep already safe in the fold, but greater for the formerly lost who has now been found. Do not miss what is being celebrated, as shown by the parable's shepherd; the friends (indeed, all heaven) are rejoicing in the actions of the shepherd, he has found his lost sheep! We too celebrate the gracious actions of our Lord making any focus on the lost sheep secondary to that of the Shepherd. The second parable...
This parable repeats elements of the first, again placing emphasis on the one doing the seeking, finding and saving. All ten coins are equally valuable to their owner, each worth approximately a day's pay, so any subsequent celebration is not to honor one as being worth more than the others. Once again, all who are called to celebrate do so only for the actions of the One who did it all! At risk of repetition; the cause being celebrated is "what" has been found and restored, but this can never be apart from, or primary to, who did it. This leaves the finder alone as "who" is being celebrated.
The apostle John was given opportunity to catch a glimpse of the actual celebration in heaven. This real life event had many celebrants. In keeping with the theme of these parables, their words clearly highlight who the celebration was for.
Heaven's celebration is all for the One who did the saving. In light of the two previous parables, and their similar focus, Jesus now tells a third (Luke 15:11-31). This we will consider in detail, one piece at a time.
The Parable of the Amazing Father:
Referencing two sons would have brought a number of Biblical examples to the minds of His listeners, perhaps including Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel, Aaron and Moses, Ephraim and Manasseh (sons of Joseph), to name a few. Along with, or regardless of, these Scriptural examples, they would immediately be aware that the oldest son is the one who would have the greater inheritance. In fact, Mosaic Law made sure that the oldest son was to inherit two-thirds and the younger the remainder.
All those listening would have been astonished by the audacity of the parable's younger son in claiming his inherence before his father's death. His words, in effect, would have said to the father, "I wish you were dead." He dishonored his father (Exodus 20:12). Legally a son had the right to demand his inheritance from his father during his lifetime, something that regional law seemed to have allowed mostly in case of abuse or maltreatment. If this law was in view at all, it added an element of the son unjustly accusing his father of mistreating him. In fact, the younger son cared not that his father was alive, or how he felt, but only about what he could get from him. This is the world's view of our Heavenly Father - "If you're there, what's in it for me?" and "If I've got everything I need, who care's if you're there!" Even as this young man's father gave him a share of his worldly goods, so too God gives temporal blessings to all, even the unjust.
With his focus on the "stuff of life", the younger son could not see that he had given up the greater portion; fellowship with the father. He was following the pattern of his ancestral parents, Adam & Eve, who also choose to give up fellowship with the Father for what they could get (Genesis 3:4-6).
Something witnessed through a totality of Scriptures is that those who do not have fellowship with the Father always end up squandering all the good things God has given, whether material goods, relationships, or time. This is where Jesus picks up the story in His parable.
The younger son, not caring that his father was alive, wanting to fill his insatiable lust for life, desired only to be one place - far away from the father. He knew that his father would not approve. Spiritually, many today live the same way. As long as they do their sinning away from the church they feel that the Father will not know or care. They do not understand what David wrote:
Sooner or later sin typically begins to leave a bad taste in one's mouth. The book of Hebrews calls it enjoying the pleasures of sin for a short time (Hebrew 11:25). The lost younger son in Jesus' parable, a Jew, ended up lower than the lowest, eating non-kosher food with an unclean pig (Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:8). Still his desire to stay away from the Father's disapproving eyes was, for a time, greater than any desire to change.
Only when things got bad enough did the young man start to think about his father. It was not that he desired that fellowship that he had long ago broken; not that he wanted again to see his father, but merely that he knew his father had more material goods. If he couldn't get it from the world, where he had wasted all he had been given, he would go back and earn it from his father. This is how far too many see the Father in heaven; "I'll serve you as long as you take care of me". They want to earn the Father's blessing, which again is all about what's physically in it for reward. Trusting in his own senses, the younger son figured that, if he had to, working for his father and getting something was better than nothing. He would have to put up with the Father's disapproval. Those hearing Jesus would have been shocked at the presumption of this son. How could he even assume that he could again show his face? After all he had squandered a third of the father's goods and one hundred percent of his goodwill.
It would have been a long walk, likely spent rehearsing how he could make his appeal sound sincere. This is how many come to the church - "I'll join because the church looks after its' own and as long as I do the right things it'll look after me."
The son's rehearsed speech, as utilized in Jesus' parable, even hinted at the insincerity of his words. "I have sinned against heaven and against you." These words, the listeners had heard before, from the mouth of Pharaoh before the Exodus.
The right words publically spoken do not make a person truly repentant, even as Pharaoh's heart was unchanged. Pharaoh's subsequent actions would show where his heart truly was. This son was likely returning with the thought that he would leave again as his fortunes improved. He was, after all, only sorry for how he had ended up, not for what he had done.
Jesus' parable continues as the father sees his son and recognizes him, even though he is emaciated and weathered from his years of riotous living. The father knows his son.
The unexpected happen. The father whose disapproval the son had hidden from, the one whom he was sure was still angry at him, this same father came running. The father didn't care who saw, he was willing to sacrifice his dignity as a Jewish patriarch, to lift the skirt of his robe and run. This amazing father still loved his son, it was he that still wanted that fellowship that had been broken so long ago, and it was he that was willing to forgive. With his loving arms wrapped around him, the son knew that the father wanted and loved him - his son.
The words didn't come out as rehearsed. These words were from the heart, as the son truly knew that he had sinned against his father. He didn't deserve to be a son; indeed he knew he didn't deserve anything. This is where we all must get before our Heavenly Father. When we realize that we are the reason that fellowship was broken, that it was our sinful actions that caused the problem, we come to Him not deserving anything. God owes us nothing.
Amazing Grace! This younger son didn't deserve anything but his Father's wrath, but not only did his father forgive him, he restored him completely as his son. The best robe, a ring and sandals were not the clothing of a servant; they were signs of being a son. The father freely welcomed him back. The sinner was forgiven and accepted! The son now loved his father in a way he never could before. The same holds true for every believer who has experienced the saving love of God.
The parable could end here, if it was for most of us. To be honest, to one degree or another, it's easy to see ourselves in the portrayal of the younger son. But Jesus was telling the story especially for the Pharisees and Religious rulers. They held themselves to be God's chosen, even above their other brothers and sisters within the Jewish people. They believed that their righteous acts gave them special status before God. With-out-a-doubt, they knew themselves to be the older brother of the story - expecting the greater inheritance from God. They deserved it of course! As the parable continues, the focus moves from the younger son, who has been fully restored as a son, to the one who has stayed all along.
The older brother, though he had stayed near the father, was out of touch with Him. I mean, he lived where the Father was, shouldn't he have known the father was spending time everyday watching to see if the younger brother would return? In the same way, spiritually, many are so focused on earthly things that they don't care what the Father is thinking or feeling. As believers we are called to have our thoughts set on things above, even while we live and work here below! (Colossians 3:1-2). What the older son had missed was that the Father's work was seeking his lost son. The older son had busied himself doing other work. How often are believers (indeed the church) guilty of the same thing, filling up our time and keeping busy, supposedly doing the father's work, when in fact we don't understand the father's heart and what he really wants us to be doing.
For the Pharisees and the religious rulers, they lived continuously in the presence of God - physically that is. They prided themselves that they were the one's serving God in His temple. But being at the temple made them no closer to understanding God's will; that takes learning from Him, truly being in fellowship with Him. The older brother in Jesus' parable was the same. His professed position, his years of service, had all been superficial, like his younger brother he had not really wanted to know his father. Sure, he hadn't left to embrace riotous living, as his way of life, but he was still trying to earn his father's blessing.
The older brother cared as little for his younger brother as he did for his father. He neither greeted his father respectfully, actually showing public contempt by refusing to now enter the father's house. He dishonored his father (Exodus 20:12). In his own words, he viewed his time with the father as "slaving" for him. The older sibling had also missed the greater benefit of being a son - spending time with the father. He could never celebrate what the father had done for his brother because he did not understand the father's heart. After all, he was working to increase the father's goods solely because it would benefit him. Having a brother back might jeopardize that. He wanted nothing to do with this person - as shown by referring to his brother as "this son of yours". A brother that was dead to him would be as beneficial as his father dying - everything left would be his alone.
The parable ends without a resolution. Graciously the father had forgiven the insolence of the older son and the personal affront to him. Here again was the same mercy and grace that had been displayed to the younger son. Subtly he reminds the older that the younger is "this brother of yours." He should care. The father makes it clear that the older son is still physically with him - again it is an implicit offer that the older son could also truly get to know and have fellowship with him. All the blessing of the father is available to him, solely as a son, not because he has to earn it. And here it ends. The gracious and amazing love of the father was available to both sons. The one had accepted it and the other we don't know. It is certain that only those who love the father, who have first experienced his love, could celebrate the father's actions. This was the open invitation left with the older brother.
What an Amazing Father we have, that God himself stepped into our pigpen (this fallen world) to rescue us (Philippians 2:7-8). Scriptures show that the religious rulers listening to Jesus just didn't get it.
Article by Brent
MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2008