The Rich Man and Lazarus

It should be noted that there are some scholars who do not think that this account in Luke 16.19-31 of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. In fact, I have written a paper over this very subject and have concluded this is in fact a parable of Jesus. I will post this is in the comments section of this post if you are interested. Perhaps for you, there is no debate: this is a parable or is not a parable, period. Whatever the case, there are several learning points and interesting facts we glean from this account.

Now we must keep this in its proper context: Remember that Jesus has just spoken three parables in ch.15 and one at the beginning of this chapter (pointing to the fact that this may be a parable in a context of parables). At the end of ch.15, Jesus spoke of an older brother who refuses to go and we are left with a cliffhanger, so to speak – did the brother go in? Some have said Jesus is here pointing the “older brothers” who may be listening (i.e. Pharisees) toward their fate should they continue to ignore the call of God. Others point to this being a teaching over money; after all, Jesus just spoke another parable on money and had some words for the Pharisees about money. Here is yet another parable over the wise use of money. You, constant reader, can be the judge of this.

Their Daily Lives

The story opens up with a bit of a character sketch of two men. There is the rich man. Some think that perhaps Jesus has Herod Antipas in mind here. It could be his short quip on divorce may have triggered his mind to go to Herod, since Herod was an adulterer. Whatever the case, this rich man was dressed in purple, the color of royalty and very expensive. Along with this, he was robed in fine linen, which scholars say was worth double its weight in gold and was also strikingly beautiful material. He has the finest foods, the choicest wines at his disposal. This is the picture of luxuary Jesus paints for us.

Contrast this with the beggar. He had to be carried to the place outside the rich man’s house to beg. He was Eleazar (in the Hebrew), “him whom only God can help.” He is afflicted with a sickness that covers his body in sores. It is a miserable life. He is desiring just crumbs from the table of the rich man, probably getting nothing. And the sad state is even worse: dogs, unclean vagrants, come and lick his open sores. No bandages for Lazarus; his festering sores are open game for the dogs.

Their Deaths

Their deaths are reported in striking contrast as well. The beggar, Lazarus, dies and is taken by angelic escort to the bosom of Abraham. What a picture! Taken, at death, to a place of comfort. What about the rich man? Simply, he dies and is buried. Perhaps his friends show up to pay respect. But for him there is no angelic escort to the unseen world of disembodied spirits.

Their Destinations

The rich man, upon waking in the realm of the dead, finds himself in torment. Elsewhere Jesus points out hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom. Here this rich man illustrates the truth of that teaching. He is in torment. The idea of torment is that of precious metal being tested on a black stone. It is a scraping, grating, scratching type of torture. In addition, this also was a word used for the torture of a slave on a rack in order to obtain information from them. Here is the pain the rich man is in. Acute pain to get answers to questions no one is asking. The only question is the one asked of self: why did I live my life to end up here? There is no doubt the rich man should be there, no question of the justice of God. He has only himself to blame for his final destination.

The beggar, though, is in a place of comfort (v.25). This is the same word Jesus used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Apostles when he was gone (John 14.26; 15.26). Lazarus is comforted, encouraged, consoled in this place. A life of pain and agony is eclipsed by a new life of peace and ease.

The Discussion

Abraham is with Lazarus in the abode of the righteous of God. Apparently the rich man can see them and he cries out for water (v.24). Just the tip of Lazarus’ finger in cool water would help the rich man. Again, the agony and pain he is in is evident. But then we see the true man behind this request: he had no mercy on Lazarus while on earth, but now he begs for mercy in the next life. It is interesting that the rich man says it is the flame of hades that is hurting him. Several other places Jesus mentions that hell is a place of fire. Some say this is Jesus using a human pain to try to get across the severe “burning” of the real hell. However, the pain of hell is more intense than pen or tongue could ever tell.

“Son,” is how Abraham replies, having been addressed as Father by the rich man, not because this man is indeed a son of Abraham and therefore heir of salvation. Abraham gives a reasoned response for why the request cannot be met: first, the rich man chose in his life to enjoy the good things – purple, fine linen, choice foods. But Lazarus had to suffer through life, not choosing the “bad things,” but rather they came upon him. Now the opposite is in effect: Lazarus, a true child of Abraham, is comforted while the rich man gets exactly what is deserved of a life lived caught up in the things of men and not the things of God. Second, Abraham explains that there is a great chasm between the two places and no one can go from one side to the other.

The rich man makes a final plea: he has five brothers who are apparently living the same kind of life as he did. Perhaps they each have their Lazarus laying at their gate whom they could show mercy. This rich man does not want his fate to be their fate. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to them. Surely they will believe a ghost! But Abraham once more gives him a reasoned explanation: they have all they need to stay out of that place. Moses and the Prophets is sufficient to lead them far away from the place of torment. “Let them hear them.”

The rich man believes this will not be enough to keep his brothers away from this place. He had Moses and the Prophets, but that wasn’t enough. If only a person who is dead could go and visit them, then that would make a difference. They will believe that. They will repent and turn to God

The Decision

Abraham once more must explain the situation. God has made the decision for all man. They have what they need to avoid the same fate as this rich man. In fact, every person has more than Moses and the Prophets now. One has been raised from the dead. Notice the parallel here. The Pharisees have Moses and the Prophets, but they loved money and therefore were not true sons of Abraham. They had no place at the table of God; they had only their tables at home. One day they will have someone come back from the dead, but they will not believe. Instead, they will continue to wallow in disbelief. Every person on planet earth has all they need for salvation from the place of torment: Jesus Christ the resurrected Lord. Otherwise, all we have to look forward to is a place of eternal conscious punishment, remembering the “good things” we had and how we missed the best things. Once more Jesus leaves the door ajar and Luke leaves us with a cliffhanger. Did they walk through the door into belief of Jesus as the Christ? Did the elder brother finally go into the Father’s house? Would they finally listen to Moses and the Prophets which testify to Jesus?

The Law and the Kingdom of God

Humph. This is usually the term associated with a person getting upset at what has been said or done to them. It is usually at this point that the person who is upset will turn their back, cross their arms and stick their nose up, trying to look as dignified as possible. Take that picture and apply it to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. This is exactly what happens in Luke 16.14. Jesus drops the bomb in v.13: “You cannot serve both God and money.” It is a simple statement of reality – God must rank first and have unrivaled devotion. Otherwise, he is not really God of your life. Luke tells us that the Pharisees overhear this and that they, being “lovers of money,” began to ridicule Jesus for what they heard. Literally, the Greek says they turned their noses up in derision at Jesus. “Humph!” You can almost hear their exasperation.

Ridicule and Reply

Jesus doesn’t leave them to pout and point fingers; he answers their ridicule head on. Note this: not all ridiculers need to be addressed, but there are some who need to be straightened up. And Jesus does this. Now when you read his response in v.15, perhaps you wonder, “Where is the love, Jesus?” Or “Aren’t you being a little judgmental, Jesus?” The answer is that in every sinngle word there is love. It takes incredible love to even speak the truth to someone. Boldness, yes, but love as well. If you really love someone, it will be that love that will stimulate you to tell them truth about their current situation. And this is what Jesus does.

He tells them first that they are seeking justification for their attitudes and actions from the wrong place. The Pharisees sought to be justified in the eyes of men, rather than God. And even if they were getting away with this kind of behavior, God knew what was within them. Here is the omniscience of God; he knows even our very soul, the thoughts we have. He knew the greed in the hearts of these Pharisees; he knows the moral filth we may hide in our hearts. No one should think that anyone is going to escape the judgment of God, even yourself. God will not be mocked by men. He knows who is on the throne of every human heart. Consider how terrifying this would be to the Pharisees.

But also, Jesus says that in the eyes of God, what men exalt is an abomination. This is especially true when men try to exalt themselves. Think of the Tower of Babel. Man wanted to be tops and God had taken a back seat. Because of this, God confused their langauge and their abomination came to a grinding halt. Jesus is driving at the heart of matter (as he always does) which is the heart of men. Men have the wrong priorities and purposes. We need to reevaluate ourselves constantly to ensure that our purposes are in line with the purposes of God in everything. God knows all our hearts – are they right with Him?

Law and Prophets

In v.16, Jesus explains that the Old Testament (The Law and the Prophets) was “until John.” The Greek has no verb here and therefore one must be supplied. The New English Bible (NEB) explains why it inserts “in force” in this verse: “The transitional nature of this verse, however, seems to call for something more like “in effect” (NRSV) or, as used here, “in force.” Further, Greek generally can omit one of two kinds of verbs – either the equative verb or one that is already mentioned in the preceding context.” Hence, the verse reads, “The Law and the prophets were in force until John.” I think this is a fair translation based on the explanation, especially when you consider the rest of the verse: “Since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” With the announcement of the kingdom, the old law is nigh unto passing away. Indeed, this is how the Hebrew presents the old covenant (see Hebrews 8.13) – it is “ready to vanish away.” So there is a changing of the guard, so to speak, as the kingdom begins to take root in the hearts of men and the Law and the prophets begins to vanish away.

Jesus says, “Everyone forces his way into it.” People were hungry for this good news, having been subject to the oppressive burden of the Pharisees. But as Jesus has said elsewhere in parables there is room for all (see 14.15-24). Unfortunately too many have to come to view the good news of the kingdom as, well, just news. Too many have a “ho-hum” approach to the kingdom and their spiritual passion wanes. Even in the kingdom there are those who view the kingdom too flipantly. It still is good news! Everyone ought to still be pressing their way into the kingdom.

Jesus explains the gravity of his teaching on the kingdom in v.17: “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” While Jesus is speaking, some there may hear him and think the Law was over and done with. In fact, Jesus clears up the situation by saying the Law will be fulfilled to the smallest stroke of a pen (Gk. mian keraian, one point). This is the “tittle” of the KJV (Tittle actually comes from the Latin, though). Moffat translates this as “comma.” In fact, it is just a small mark in the Hebrew and/or Greek language. But altering even that tiny mark is equated with tearing apart the galaxy. It is easier for the universe to cease to exist than for the Law to “become void.”

Divorce and Remarriage

And as soon as Jesus finishes this discourse over the Law with the Pharisees, he picks up a discussion on divorce and remarriage. What!? Where did this come from, Jesus? Well, I think this is more of an illustration of what he has been talking about. Jesus is pointing to a point of interpretation of the Law that seems to have been a common perception in Jesus’ time. And what a point to bring up! He shows them how severely mistaken they are in their understanding of divorce.  The Pharisees had a low view of marriage and a “ho-hum” attitude of divorce. Jesus teaches us that marriage was to be a life-long commitment and that divorce was merely a provision for hard hearts (see Matt 19.1-9). Here in Luke 16.18, Jesus shows them just how intense the Law is – a man divorcing his wife and remarrying is adultery. See the Jews thought a woman divorcing her husband was adultery and a man divorcing was no big deal. Jesus says the man is just as guilty. He is showing the Pharisees that they are way off when it comes to the Law. Whether it is divorce or money, they are off. Jesus is trying to get them to view the Law even as God views the Law whether it is on an issue like money or marriage.

Much more about divorce and remarriage could be said, but that is for another time. The point of this statement in this context is to point out the lax views of the Pharisees when it comes to the Law. They had literally justified their actions using the Law of God. How often do we do the same? We use the Word of God to justify our vices and actions. We twist Scripture so terribly that it becomes nothing more than a mangled mess resembling nothing like its original meaning. We jump through theological hoops to get to where want to be. We are all guilty of doing this. It is a time for renewed honesty. Not just any honesty, but biblical honesty. Scripture says what it says. We either accept it or we don’t. When we don’t, that is when we get in trouble. It is the same offense the Pharisees were guilty of.

The Parable of the Shrewd Dude

To be honest, I have not been looking forward to commenting on these verses (Luke 16.1-13). The reason is simply because I don’t understand them that well. I mean, we have a master commending a dishonest servant. What’s up with that? Verse 1 says he spoke it to his disciples. Jesus, how does this apply to me, a disciple? For all intents and purposes, this manager stole from his master; that’s what he did when he sat down with the debtors and told them to reduce their bills. He is commended for this offense.

Chapter 15 was aimed straight for the Pharisees (see 15.1); Jesus was combating their grumblings. Chapter 16 opens as an address to His disciples (v.1). There is some lesson in this that Jesus wants his disciples to glean. To be sure, the Pharisees are still listening. In fact, based on what Jesus says, they will ridicule him in v.14. But the lesson in this is leveled straight at the disciple.

Dishonest Steward

 Jesus introduces us to the two main characters in this parable: a rich man (also the master later in the story) and the manager (that is, one was usually hired who had rule over a man’s estate). This manager was accused of wasting (the same word used as for the younger son of Luke 15.13 when he “squandered” his possessions) his master’s goods. Was he actually wasting his master’s possessions? Judging by the fact that he is called “dishonest” in v.8, one might conclude that (although he could be called dishonest for decreasing the bills of these debtors). Also, you factor in his reaction to the news and his shrewd actions; I don’t think an innocent man would have acted like this. Nevertheless, charges are leveled and this man begins to think, “Now, how I am I going to come of this.” He is forced to give an account for his actions, something that no doubt will reveal the charges are true. Now what?

He runs through some options: can I dig? No, I haven’t the strength. Will I beg? No, I am too ashamed to reduce myself like that. What’s a dishonest manager to do? He devises a shrewd scheme that will enable him to be received people’s homes once he is fully terminated from his position. He calls in his master’s debtors, one-by-one. One owes “one hundred measures of oil,” which is about 875 gallons (according to the ESV footnote). This is a serious sum he owes the master. The manager cuts the debt in half; what generosity! Another owed 100 measures of wheat, which is somewhere between 1000 and 1200 bushels. The manager tells this man to decrease his debt by 20%, now he owes only 80 measures. Again, how gracious! Note this: this manager has the authority, as the fiscal agent over the master’s house, to make these changes.

Now we get to the sticky part. In verse 8, we find that “the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Again, why is he dishonest? Because he was wasting his possessions or because he had acted in such a manner with the debtors? I suppose both are acceptable answers. But I would lean toward the former. While it may not have been a good move for the master when the manager decreased the debt of the debtors and it was a shrewd move, he did nothing illegal. But as for the commendation (or praise) from the master to the dishonest manager, it should be noted that the master does not praise his dishonesty; he praises his “shrewdness” or prudence. In short, this manager acted wisely.

Here is the dilema of the master now: should he restore the debts back to their original amounts, which he certainly is able to do as the master, he will be seen as an oppresive man, a hard man. If he fires the dishonest manager, who graciously acted toward the debtors, again he is seen as the bad guy. Faced with this crisis, the master acts prudently as well (so it would seem) in praising his dishonest manager for his wise move. Whether he likes it or not, the master is stuck in a tough situation, perhaps in the same vein the manager found himself in earlier when faced with termination.

Faithful Stewardship

Jesus uses this parable to make his point (v.8b-13). The lesson is that disciples are to act shrewdly too. This story illustrates this principle. The sons of the world act shrewdly with one another, as is seen with the dishonest (lit. unrighteous) manager and his master. How much more should the children of light act prudently with one another! But Jesus gets very specific as to what a disciple is to do. Be prudent, wise in the use of your wealth. Use it to make friends for yourselves. Money has no inherent character; it derives its character from those who possess it. If good people have money, it is good; if bad people have money, it is bad. And Jesus is telling is make sure your money has good character. Use it wisely for the kingdom of God. Money is sure to fail; but the eternal dwelling of God is forever. Jesus says “they” will receive you into the eternal dwellings (see John 14.2 and “rooms”). Who are “they”? Some say the friends made by the wise use of your wealth. Others say that the use of “they” is a way of refering to the trinity without invoking the sacred name. Nevertheless, the use of your wealth now apparently is tied to your eternal destination. So be wise.

Jesus continues his teaching over money in v.10. Here is another principle about the use of wealth. Your stewardship is either a faithful one or a dishonest (lit. unrighteous) one. Said another way, the use of our wealth is a test from God. If we are faithful with little, we will be faithful in much. If dishonest with little…God wants to know if we can be trusted with wealth. Too many prove to be foolish in their use of wealth, squandering it away. Hmm, have wee run across that concept before? The younger son squandered his wealth and he wound up in the pig pen. Today, many waste their possesssions on junk and end up a pig pen as well: the pig pen of debt. How then can God entrust the true riches to you? (v.11) Some say this heaven itself. It may also be blessings in general, both physical and spiritual. Don’t be surprised because God shuts the doors of his storehouse when you have proven faithless in your use of wealth.

We have seen this concept before in Luke (12.21). In fact, throughout God’s word are admonitions against wasting your money. The reason God doesn’t like this wasteful spending is because earthly wealth is God’s. Verse 12 speaks to this: implied in this verse is that earthly wealth is “another’s” which is God. He controls all the wealth in the world. “The cattle on a thousand hills are his” says the Psalmist. Then why do we treat money like it is “ours.” Ours is something greater, something prepared by the Lord. A dwelling place in the house of God (see John 14.1-4).

One more lesson from this section is in v.13: we cannot allow the love of money to rule our hearts. The Pharisees had this problem (v.14) and God was upset about it. Their hearts were not right with God. No, we must free from the love of money. To do this, we need to keep money in the right perspective: it is God’s, he has given us the sacred stewardship of dispensing it for the kingdom, and it is a test of our faithfulness. Instead of money, Christ, God should be on the throne, ruling our hearts and lives. And when Christ is on the throne of our hearts, he will help us to keep money in its proper place. To use money selfishly is to put money on the throne; it rules our life, not God. No, use money wisely, helping others, especially our brothers, to learn about God and his kingdom.

The Lost Son, pt. 2

I wish I could tell you that Luke 15 ended at v.24 with the lost son back in the house of blessing with the father enjoying the feast of a lifetime. I wish I could tell you that all was well in the father’s house and everyone accepted the son back into the family even as the father did. But sadly, all is not well in the father’s house and Jesus gives us the rest of the story. Again, keep this in context: v.2 tells us that some of the opponents of Jesus, Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about Jesus eating with sinners. So Jesus told them some parables and is saying in each one of these parables “this is what God is like.” Clearly, the picture of God in the Pharisees and scribes heads was not right; God is a God who extends grace to sinners. And so Jesus is helping these men (and even us) identify with someone in the story in case they were missing the point.

Quiet Questioning

There is a party going on. But not everyone is at the party. The older son of the father is out in the field, toiling under the blazing sun, engaged in his father’s business. And as he is coming near the house he can hear the party: music being played, probably laughter and loud talking, the sound of people dancing, even rejoicing. Why all the ruckus? What’s going on? Why wasn’t I told about this? All these questions he voices to a servant; he keeps it private, not going to the house or his father. And that is how this resentment begins: it begins in the soul, internally. And like the Pharisees of Jesus day, that is how it began – they would say to themselves (5.21, NIV). It begins internally. But, like this son, they did not go straight to the source (the father). They kept it somewhat quiet, asking a servant. Note the Pharisees did the same thing when they would ask Jesus’ disciples (5.30).

The report is given to the older son: “Your brother is alive and found, safe and sound.” Note that the father “recieved” (ESV) the younger son. The word means to receive something (in this case someone) back that you previously possessed. The idea then is that the father took back his possession as his own possession. I suppose it would be like getting a Christmas present containing something that was already yours, that you owned. So overjoyed by this gift, the father killed the fattened calf.

Obdurate Outrage

Alas, the older son is furious. Livid. Wroth. And rather than go to the father and express his feelings, he pouts. He stands outside and refuses to go in. But here is the picture of the Father: not only does he run to returning sons, he will go to and meet with the raging ones also. See the father wants all his children at the feast, in the house of blessing. It is a beautiful picture here because the father is “entreating” (ESV) or literally calling out to this son, pleading with him, even as he probably would have pleaded with the son if he had run into him in the big city, to come home.

This son will have none of it. Let’s note the older son’s character for a second. First, he is performance driven (v.29). He marks time, keeps a log of all his work. But that is just it – his work is nothing more than punching the clock. “All these years…” he says. Certainly the Pharisees, who devoted so much time to God and his work, could hear these words from their own mouth. “All these years we have served you deligently; you mean to tell me these ‘sinners’ get to eat from the same table as I?” Not only that, he tracks behavior. “I have served you, I have never disobeyed…you never gave me a young goat.” The self-righteous voice clearly rings out its performance as though it truly amounts to anything. Accusations fly at the father. How often are we guilty of accusing God of injustice! “Why have you not given me this?” We might cry. “I have served you; why do the wicked excel but I languish?” Also, this son is feels entitled to something. He is saying to his father, “you owe me.” For all the work I have done, you owe me something. Certainly all my good works deserve some small reward. But the Father owes us nothing! We are not entitled to a better house, better car, anything. Our righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags in the sight of God. And if we depend upon our track record, we are in dire straights!

This son is relationally distant. That is, he cannot identify with his father. He cannot understand the nature of his father and how he can accept back into his presence this terrible younger son. He does not share in his father’s joy over the return of the lost son. Nor does he identify with the father’s heart and the love he has for this younger son. But over all this, he absolutely refuses to identify himself with his brother. In fact, this brother is still dead to him, though alive to the father.

Finally he is possessions focused. All he sees is the squandering of the father’s property. He sees the father wasting the good calf on this no-good son. Can you hear the voice of Judas: “why this waste?” Here is the character of this son. But take note: despite this massive fault in character, the father still loves him just the same as he loves the returning son.

Soft Solution

When I say “soft,” I do not mean the father was soft on the son nor that our Father is soft on sin. I mean this in the sense of Proverbs 15.1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (NIV). Here is the father giving a gentle response to the enraged son. “Son…” this is emphatic in the Greek. He is reminding this older son of his identity. He is also reminding that “…all that is mine is yours.” It was not that his father had held anything back; he has always had access to the house of blessing. Here is the indictment of Jesus on the Pharisees of his day: they had the privileges of being God’s chosen people, with all the blessings God could give from heaven. They had the covenants and the Law (Rom 9.4) and all the privileges and prerogatives that go along with that position. They were sons! Instead of standing out in the cold, enraged at the grace of the Father, they should be in the house, rejoicing that the manifold wisdom of God included others in the house of blessing. Even the vilest of sinners can find grace in the house of God.

Again, I wish I could tell you this story ends “happily ever after” with the father in his house rejoicing with both of his sons, their voices ringing together in rejoicing. But verse 32 ends abruptly with the father’s final words about his returned son: “he was lost, and is found” (ESV). I wish I could tell you that the story ends with the son falling in the arms of the father, sobbing over his poor attitude. I wish I could tell you about any ending Jesus gives this story, but he doesn’t. We are left with the question: did the son repent? And perhaps this was the point of ending it like this. Jesus is leaving the Pharisees to end the story with their repentance of their attitude toward ‘sinners’ and realize the Father’s house is large enough for all returning sinners.

But I do suppose the Pharisees finish the story: God extends the invitation through his Son Jesus and they execute him. The lifeline to God stands before them, giving them the words of life and they refuse to listen and so be saved. Jesus shows them the Father, and they don’t like the picture he paints. Thus, they refuse the invitation and will not enter the house of blessing.

The Lost Son, pt. 1

It is with some trepidation that I tread into the midst of ch.15 of Luke. The reason for this is that this text (v.11-24) has been so often preached, taught, commented on, and written about that I believe there is little to say or add to the bulk of scholarship available to us. Nevertheless, we press on in our study of Luke. Remember, this is spoken in a context of people seeking to hear Jesus (v.1). Jesus is critiqued by the religious elites of his day and so he speaks parables to them, one about a lost sheep, another about a lost coin, and still another concerning a lost son.

The Son’s Sin

We pick up in v.11 where Jesus explains very simply “a man had two sons.” Probably both good boys who always listened to their father. But one day his younger son, perhaps more naive and thoughtless, begins to wonder about the outside world, the world outside the father’s house. He asks his father for his share of the inheritance. Note this, first, that the son’s sin does not begin when he is in the pig pen. It doesn’t even begin when he is in the big city living it up with all kinds of sinful activities. The son’s sin begins with this daft discontent. It begins with discontent to dwell in the father’s house. It begins with a desire to leave the father’s house. And this kind of discontent does not make sense; why would you want to leave when you have all the blessings of the father’s house. How terrible that too many of God’s children grow weary of living with the Father. They are no longer content to be under the care and control of God and therefore seek their independance from him. Indeed, like this young man, they wish their Father were dead. No that is what this son and those who leave the Father wish! By asking for his share of his inheritance, the son is really seeking his father dead. But the father is willing to oblige even so ridiculous a request as this. And though it breaks the heavenly Father’s heart, he knows his children too have their free will.

And so the daft discontent of the son leads to a deliberate departure from the father’s house. He gathered up all his goods and monies and leaves the father’s house. The first step outside the father’s house was sin and a departure from the house of blessing. And note this, the father does not go with him. No the father can have no part with the things of the world and sin city. He remains in house with all his blessings but with one less son to shower them on. Once in the big city, the son “squanders” his livlihood in prodigal or reckless living. This is nothing short of decadent dissipation. He blew his dough on junk, trash, sin. The older brother points out that it was harlots he spent his money on (v.30).  And he spent everything! Every dime. No longer is he driven by the will of his father, but he is lost in the alluring sound of sin. And then trouble came….

The Son’s Shame

One cannot live in sin for long before they begin to feel pressure and brokenness sin brings with it. Eventually sin catches up with them. And this young man was not exempt from it. A severe famine broke loose over the land. The son found himself in profound poverty. The young man who had needed nothing for all his wealth now foud himself in the lowest of circumstances. The “friends” and harlots who had been there to spend the money up and vanished at the sign that the flow of cash had dried up. Only the lowest of work could be found during this recession period: feeding pigs. Here is the son’s deep degradation, even working among the unclean animals. Here is the unimaginable: a Jew in the pig pen. It is the most distasteful and despicable activities any Jew could partake in. But even the basest of work is performed by the poorest of men. He hires himself out, or literally glues himself to this pig farmer. And note the woeful want found in v.16: he desired even to eat the pig’s food. How deep is this young man’s shame all because he sought to leave the house of blessing! How many of God’s children can avoid the pig pen of sin simply by turning back to the Father’s house of blessing! Turn back! Repent!

The Son’s Repentance

Jesus does not leave us to wallow in the pig pen for long. He paints the picture of a young man who has a rude awakening. “And he came to his senses…” (NIV, v.17). That is, he woke up, he roused himself from his sinful slumber. It is as if he had been as far away from himself as he was from home. He snaps back to reality and truly feels the gravity of his situation. He is poor, smelly, bedraggled, starving (to death?). He has probably lost some weight. Awake thou that sleepest and rise from the dead. And here is the first of the slumbering soul sunk in sin: wake up. Look around you and realize you are hopelessly lost. God is calling, as he was in the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?” He knows where you are, he is seeking your response, you acknowledgement of your predicament.

Immediately this son has a remoseful attitude. He knows the score and knows where he can find victory: only back home with dear old dad. His servants eat better than this son. So this young man devises his earnest plea for the father. “I have sinned against heaven and against you” (v.18). In fact, because of his terrible attitude before and because of his deep decent into darkness, he believes he is no longer worthy to be called a son. If nothing else, he would be glad to be servant. But here is thing: the best of intentions mean nothing with resolved actions that go along wih them. In order for the son’s situation to improve, he has to get out of the pig pen of sin. Too often, those in the pig pen want to change and even devise the best of speeches for the father but there is no follow through action. Jesus shows us, if we want entrance back into the house of blessing, we actually have to go to the Father’s house. This son got up and left.

The Son’s Restoration

How many times on that long journey home did this son repeat that same speech in his head? Were there any changes as he ran over it again and again? Were there moments of doubt and fear where he almost didn’t go through with it? You ever been in those shoes? Unsure of whether or not your prayer for forgiveness was heard, whether the Father truly accepted you back. And so we identify with this son. But what a picture of our Father! Verse 20 paints a picture of our God watching the horizon for us to return. Even while he was a long way off, the father saw his son. I picture a rut formed on the porch of the home. I picture a father who, out in the fields with his workers, would lift his eyes to the horizon and sigh with longing. And then one day…could it be? He knows that gait. And even in the distance he knows that figure. I believe the father had been waiting for this day. The day his son came back. Not only was he waiting and watching, but not we see a loving father, filled to the brim and overflowing with compassion for this lost son. But it had always there; he never stopped loving his son. But also we see a running father. Here is an undignified gesture for a man his age; older men do not run! They stroll, each step calculated and dignified. But here is aged father, runnning to meet his son. And finally, here is the kissing father. He is all over the smelly bedraggled boy. He throws his arms around his son and kisses him again and again. I picture eyes filled with tears, even as his heart is filled with compassion.

Imagine a primarily Jewish audience listening to this account and knowing Jesus is speaking of Jehovah. How radical! We are talking about the same God who descended upon Mt. Sinai with thunder and lightning so terrible the earth shook and so terrifying the people asked Moses to intercede lest they die. Can it be that he is waiting, watching, loving, running, and (dare we say it) kissing sinners when they return? Yes, says Jesus. Here is your God, your heavenly Father face to face with his returning child. It must be this way, because all of our meager efforts to try and rectify the situation will not work. Indeed, when the son trys to explain to his father the situation, the father will have none of it. Here is grace: our explanations will not work, only God giving us what we do not deserve is the explanation.

What is to be done for the found son? First, put on him the best robe. Slaves do not wear robes, but sons do. Indeed, we wear a robe of righteousness not our own in order to cover our spiritual nakedness. Second, put a ring on his finger. It carried the family sign. Hence, this is symbolic of family relationship. Third, put sandals on his feet. Slaves do not wear shoes and indeed the slavery to sin for us has ended just as the son’s did. Finally, let us feast at the banquet table of the father. In chapter 14 Jesus described a great banquet which is spread for those who will come to eat from. Here the father brings out the best calf to be slaughtered and eat in a feast to acknowledge the lost son is found, yes more than that, he was dead and is alive.

A couple of application points to wrap up this section: first, what’s wrong with this picture? The answer is…well, everything. The son gets exactly what he does not deserve. But therein is grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve especially when we don’t deserve it. Second, what is God like? Well, he is a God who regrets when we rebel. He is a God who runs when we return. And he is a God who restores when we repent. Thank you, Jesus for showing us the Father! Finally, what is missing from this picture? Jesus. But truly he is present every sentence of the story. You see the one telling the story is the key to how the story ends. His whole existence is to ensure this story has the happy ending that it has.