I want to split these next posts into two parts. There is too much to write in one, so I don’t want to overwhelm you. Both will deal with the parable in Luke 15. The parable of the lost son is in my opinion, the most profound because it sums up God’s pursuit of us, despite our nature. It displays two polar opposite sides of the spectrum, outwardly speaking. However, inwardly speaking, both sons’ motivations amount to the same roots: pride. They each elevate themselves to be in place of God. In this post I want to focus on the first part of the parable– the younger, wayward son. He seeks selfish desires, while the elder son is self-righteous and wants recognition for his outward obedience–which both stem from pride. They try to replace God’s throne with themselves and see the world centered around themselves. I will do my best to explain the parable and its profundity. I think it’s important to realize that both sons are lost. In fact, I think Jesus was primarily teaching this parable for the blind Pharisees’ sake. I have read this parable several times, and each time I read it, I find myself swaying to both sides of the spectrum. I used to merely see the younger, “lost” son and ignore the message spoken through the elder brother. But more times than not, I become convicted of self-righteous motives displayed through the elder son. Before I go to explain this parable, keep in mind a verse from the previous parable that Jesus spoke about from Luke 15:7: “…there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
The younger son:
In a nutshell, a man had two sons. The younger one demanded wealth from his father and chose to leave the estate. First of all, one might ask why the father let his son go off into a distant country to spend all he had been given. I believe this is a picture of God’s grace to show us that nothing apart from Him will satisfy and yet He is still sovereign over it all. I will get to that when the verse comes. The younger son desired his father’s goods for himself, instead of enjoying the father’s love itself and the father, himself. The younger son was far too easily pleased and chose to seek satisfaction in “wild living” (vs. 13). As he came to his senses (vs. 17), he realized he had been chasing empty wells. He saw abundance at home, but didn’t realize it until he starved after he squandered it all. This is what I was saying before. Sometimes God reveals to us the sickness of our hearts as we choose destruction and it takes this sort of awareness until we desire God. But wayward hearts aren’t the only destructive hearts. Elder sons are too and we will get to that later. The younger son devises a plan for his return and acknowledges his unworthiness. Although it is true that we are unworthy and sinful, it’s important to consider God’s holiness and faithfulness in light of this. And this character is seen in the fact that God pursues us, despite where we have been, and despite our wandering. He qualifies the called, he doesn’t call the qualified, which is a humbling truth that keeps coming to my mind. In the story, vs. 20 says: “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.” The father ran to him before he could even carry out his devised plan and before he could even confess. We get this wrong all the time, or at least I do. Human nature and religion says that we must do and therefore are accepted and loved. The gospel and this picture here is everything opposite of that. It shows God’s character in that his lavish affection causes our hearts to be drawn to Him and it causes us to see sin as it really is- an offense towards God. The father in this story simply runs towards his son and celebrates his return. He doesn’t give his son a chance to earn his way back. He takes him back. There is a huge difference and I think once we have this view, we will approach our heavenly Father with authority. For those who have accepted Christ’s work on the cross, we receive an inheritance and an identity in Christ, which means we can come to God as we are because we have been reconciled to him. To wrap up what happens with the younger son, the father invites his servants to clothe his son in the best robe, put a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet, and kill a fattened calf for a feast to celebrate. These things represent something much more. They represent what salvation in Jesus Christ brings, as they come with several cross references in the Bible. There was celebration due to the son’s return; due to his repentance (Luke 15:7).
I used to view this parable and strictly see this son. I saw a lot of myself playing his role–exchanging pleasure of God for pleasure of created things and temporary cravings. I still do at times, but if I am honest, I also see the next role in my own heart. The younger son displays visible waywardness, while the next son I explain in the parable displays a more manipulative, dangerous waywardness. Don’t get me wrong, waywardness is waywardness, but elder sons typically don’t see their need for a Savior because they feel they are good enough without one. Everything might appear to be perfectly okay, but in reality, elder son’s are train wrecks. God didn’t intend a relationship with him to be either son. He doesn’t want His children to squander their freedom to indulge in fleshly desires (like the younger son) and He doesn’t want His children to rely on their own strength and moralism to earn favor (elder son). In the next post, I want to unravel the elder son’s role and the dangerous repercussions this type of attitude might carry out.