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In humility, he recognizes his foolishness and decides to return to his father and ask for forgiveness and mercy. The father who has been watching and waiting, receives his son back with open arms of compassion. He is overjoyed by the return of his lost son.

Immediately the father turns to his servants and asks them to prepare an enormous feast in celebration of his son's return. Meanwhile, the older son boiles in anger when he comes in from working the fields to discover a party with music and dancing to celebrate his younger brother's return. The father tries to dissuade the older brother from his jealous rage explaining, "You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

Typically, a son would receive his inheritance at the time of his father's death. The fact that the younger brother instigated the early division of the family estate showed a rebellious and proud disregard for his father's authority, not to mention a selfish and immature attitude. Pigs were unclean animals. Jews were not even allowed to touch pigs.

When the son took a job feeding pigs, even longing for their food to fill his belly, it revealed that he had fallen as low as he could possibly go. This son represents a person living in rebellion to God.

9 Details of the Prodigal Son that would have astonished Jesus’ audience

Sometimes we have to hit rock-bottom before we come to our senses and recognize our sin. This section of Luke's Gospel is dedicated to the lost. The first question it raises for readers is, "Am I lost? We live in a society with advanced social decay — with teens dropping out of high school, financiers plundering companies and kids being raised without fathers. We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop out of school, commit crimes and abandon their children are like the younger brother.

In many cases, we have a governing class of elder brothers legislating programs on behalf of the younger brothers. But the father in this parable exposes the truth that people in the elder brother class are stained, too. The elder brother is self-righteous, smug, cold and shrewd. The father also understands that the younger brothers of the world will not be reformed and re-bound if they feel they are being lectured to by unpleasant people who consider themselves models of rectitude. Imagine if the older brother had gone out to greet the prodigal son instead of the father, giving him some patronizing lecture.

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Do we think the younger son would have reformed his life to become a productive member of the community? He would have gotten back up and found some bad-boy counterculture he could join to reassert his dignity. The father teaches that rebinding and reordering society requires an aggressive assertion: You are accepted; you are accepted. It requires mutual confession and then a mutual turning toward some common project. As he approaches it, however, his limbs grow feeble, his heart beats high, and he lacks courage to go near and knock.

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He halts, and is about to turn back in despair. What would suffice to encourage the trembler at that moment, and bear him through? If then and there he could in any way be thoroughly convinced that the man whom he formerly injured, and therefore now dreads, is not only in general tender-hearted and open-handed, but is at that moment specifically thinking of this individual transgressor, grieving over his impenitence, watching from his window for his coming, yearning to receive his confession, and enjoy the blessedness in his own heart of forgiving and satisfying the penitent; this will be effectual; the youth will go forward to the door now with a firm step.

It is such a conviction regarding the mind of God towards erring men that is needed, in order to bring them in clouds to his mercy-seat, like doves to their windows; and it is in order to work this conviction in our hearts that Jesus, who has authority to declare the Father, has given us the parable of the Prodigal Son. May the Spirit take this word, and make it in us quick and powerful. Here we are not left to deal with curious or doubtful speculation. Nothing in heaven or earth can be truer, surer, plainer than this. The view that Jesus gives is the true view of the Father, as he turns his face to-day toward the children of men.

Here is a youth who has discovered suddenly that a disease has fatally stricken him, deep in the springs of life. After struggling some days against conviction, and clinging to false hopes, he has at length acknowledged that sentence of death has been passed. When the first tumult subsides, a species of calm succeeds, -- the calm of earnest occupation with one over-riding and absorbing theme.

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The world, with its hopes and fears, is conclusively cut off: his business with time is closed. He has bidden farewell to the crowd that he has left behind, and has entered the solemn vestibule which at the other end opens on eternity. With all the energy of his being, he applies himself now to the question, Am I lost or saved? He looks alternately backward on his own life, and upward to God's throne; both prospects trouble him.

Backward he sees only sin; forward, only judgment. Himself seems the stubble, and the Judge a consuming fire. As these two approach, and their meeting seems near, he fears with an exceeding great fear, and cries with an exceeding bitter cry.

He greatly wonders, meanwhile, that he never saw things in this light before. Now, in man's extremity, is God's opportunity to show him the Father. While the eyes of the body are closed in weariness, the mental vision remains active; and a picture appears, as if it were hung in light upon the wall. To the soul's eye Christ appears, and appears in the act of revealing the Father. The Father whom Christ reveals runs forth to meet his prodigal son, falls on his neck, weeps, and kisses him.

There is no upbraiding, no bargaining for terms. The returning son is forgiven, accepted, clothed, honoured, loved.


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He has all, and abounds. This is doubtless a true picture, the dying youth reflects, for it is Christ that displays it; but, alas, it brings no hope to me. I have stifled convictions, and lived for my own pleasure; and though I often heard of mercy, I never sought it, until I found that death was on my track.


How can I expect that God should receive me, when I make him a do-no-better, for I never thought of seeking him until all my chosen idols had forsaken me, and I was left destitute? Brother, look; what good thing was in the lost son, that served to recommend him to his father? He would not remain at home; he could not enjoy his abundance as long as the father, whose face he loathed, abode under the same roof.

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He went away, that he might enjoy the pleasures of sin. He did not return while he had enough; he did not return when he began to be in want; he endured the extreme of misery and shame rather than return; he came back to his father only when all other resources failed; -- and yet his father received him with great gladness. Sinner, look on this love, -- look on it till you live in its light. It is not him that never departed, or came back while he yet had plenty, or came back soon, or came back with an improved heart, -- it is, " Him that cometh I will in no wise cast out.

We are not to seek Christ himself as mediator in the person of this father; nor though Melancthon has strangely ventured to affirm it , afterwards in the fatted calf, as sacrificially slain. His place here is rather to be sought in his thus authoritatively testifying of the Father's mercy. As Nitzsch excellently says: -- 'If he seems to conceal himself here, he is all the more manifest there, where the Shepherd seeks the lost sheep.

For the Son -- who is neither an elder nor a younger , the eternal Son of the Father, one with him, his eye and his heart towards the lost -- is come into this world, although invisible and unnamed in the parable, to reveal the Father where he had been ever invisible, and where no man knew him: and he is to the children of the law and the curse, not only a living herald of the propitiable -- we shall rather say of the already propitiated -- Father, but the that is our propitiation itself, and the way whereby every one of us may come back to God.

We may also say with Von Gerlach that the 'coming out of the father to meet his son, here figuratively exhibits the sending of the Son. The notion that a mediator is not needed, because a mediator is not here specifically represented, proceeds upon the assumption, obviously and inexcusably erroneous, that all truth must be taught in every parable.

While occasionally visiting the printing works of the publishers as these sheets are passing through the press, I have observed the process of printing coloured landscapes by lithograph. One stone by one impression deposits the outline of the land; another stone, by another impression, fills in the sea; and a third stone, on a different machine, subsequently adds the sky to the picture. No observer is so foolish as to complain, while he sees the process in its earlier stages, that there is no sea or no sky in the landscape.

It is thus with the parables in general, and with this group in particular. By the two first, certain portions and aspects of the scene are represented; and by the last one, when it is impressed on the same field, the remaining features are completed.