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The Prodigal Son

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘The Prodigal Son’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 3/22/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

The Prodigal Son

You have probably heard this story before. The story of the prodigal son illustrates God’s love for us. A son who has been given everything – a great inheritance – squanders it with prodigal (i.e. wasteful) living. After much struggle, he returns home to his father. The narrative typifies how most of us live our lives. More importantly, it demonstrates God’s response when we come home.

Our Inheritance

We all have an amazing inheritance from God. God initially promises to bless Abraham in Genesis 12:

“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

– Gen 12:2-4

We see all God’s promises become reality, not only for Abraham, but for all his descendants. Jesus Christ was a descendant of Abraham (see Lk 3). God also wants us to know that when we believe in Jesus, we become Abraham’s descendants as well:

And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. – Gal 3:29

Every blessing that applied to Abraham, applies to us. We are heirs to God’s innumerable blessings. This was the exact position in which the prodigal son found himself as we start reading in Luke 15:

Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.’” – Lk 15:11-12


The Younger Son

The younger son knew he had an inheritance from his father. He knew his father was a wealthy man, and that eventually the wealth would be transferred to him. So he asked for it right away. His father gave his inheritance freely to his younger son, and he packed up his things and moved out:

And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” – Lk 15:13-19

The son got exactly what he asked for, but had no idea how to steward his inheritance well. Some of identify with the younger son. We have been given immense opportunity by God. When we ask according to His will, He hears our petitions; and when He hears us, we have the things we ask (1 Jn 5:14-15).

But sometimes we receive God’s gifts in a place of immaturity. We waste everything He gives us, just like the prodigal son. The prodigal son thought that his father’s love was a one-shot deal. He received his inheritance, and then assumed that was all he was ever going to get. He was so afraid to return home that he, “…joined himself “(v 15) to another master while he was living abroad. He assumed that his father had no love left to give, so he offered his life’s labor to someone who was not his father.

The younger son was not perfect; and neither are we. Paul outlines our eventual ineptitude with no apology to the church at Rome:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… – Rom 3:23

Some of us have squandered our inheritance: God gave us a beautiful life, and we screwed it up. But the message He wants to get to us through this story is that He does not require perfection. There is grace to cover all sin, and mercy to overshadow the punishment we deserve. Jesus poured out His life on the Cross so that you and I could return to our Father with no reservation whatsoever.

When we admit our faults and come home, God doesn’t just reluctantly accept us. He comes running to us:

And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” And they began to be merry. – Lk 15:20-24

The father immediately had compassion on his son when he returned home. He wasn’t angry; and he didn’t have to think about whether or not he would take his son back. The son knew he was no longer worthy to be called a son; but the father made instantly clear that the decision to be called a son was his to make.

The son’s confession of imperfection was met with his father’s forgiveness. In the same way, our repentance will be met with acceptance and forgiveness from God. When we come home to God expecting to be a servant, He lifts us up to become sons and daughters.

The father did more than simply accept his son. Immediately we see the father give his son good gifts, all of which bear significance. Every good and perfect gift is from above (Jas 1:17). We are not meant merely to survive our relationship with God; we are meant to enjoy Him!

The first gift the son receives is the “best robe” (v 22). The father was restoring his son’s righteousness. He was making clear that his son had significance apart from performance. The fact that he had squandered his inheritance was irrelevant to the father; what mattered most was that his son was home.

God receives us in exactly the same way. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are clothed in righteousness and completely restored. Jesus Christ suffered the punishment and death all of us deserve, so that we might enjoy the reward only He has earned. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sins and our shortcomings; He sees His Only Son Jesus Christ. We are hidden in Him (Col 3:3). We are righteous by faith, and not by works!

Next, the father put a ring on his son’s hand (v 22). The ring represents authority. In the time this story was written, authority was conveyed with a signet ring. Whenever a legal matter was decided, or funds were transferred, a signet ring was a necessary part of the process. One of the father’s servants would pour wax out on a legal document, and he would press the signet ring into the wax so the document bore the impression of the ring. The ring represented power of attorney: legal recognition that the son could make decisions on behalf of his father.

The father was telling his son that even though he had just wasted everything he was given, he still had his trust. God does the same with us. We (the human race) wasted the life of Jesus Christ when He was sent to us. We nailed Him to the Cross and cried out for Him to be crucified. But even though we wasted our Inheritance, God turned around and trusted us again by filling us with His Holy Spirit.

When we give our lives to Christ, God fills us with His Holy Spirit. Even though we couldn’t handle Jesus, God filled us with Himself again. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us so that we have the strength to do everything God calls us to.

Jesus gives us full permission to use His name. At the name of Jesus, every knee bows (Phil 2:10). When we pray in His name, Jesus promises us, “…authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy” (Lk 10:19). All that He has was given unto us: first His eternal reward, and now His heavenly authority.

Next, the father puts sandals on his son’s feet (v 22). In the Old Testament, the removal of a man’s sandal represented the loss of dignity. In Deut 25:9-10, God explains that a man who fails to take responsibility for his brother’s family should be disgraced:

“…then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.’ And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal removed.’” – Deut 25:9-10

The removal of a sandal meant that you were a chump: that anyone could legally disrespect you, to your face. As those sandals were strapped onto the son’s feet, his dignity was restored. Never again would he have to eat with swine (see v 16); he was always welcome at the father’s table.

But the sandal also represents more:


Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging, to confirm anything: one man took off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was a confirmation in Israel. – Ruth 4:7

Handing one’s sandal to another person meant that a legal transfer of ownership had taken place. The father was saying that everything he had just done for his son – clothing him in righteousness, giving him full authority, and restoring his dignity – was legally binding. The contract the son had with his former master in a foreign land was canceled, and reconciliation between a father and his son was penned in its place. After the transfer of the sandal, the father could no longer take back anything he had just given his son. The removal of any of his blessings would have been illegal. So it is with the blessings God has given into our hands: He will never remove them, and the enemy certainly cannot steal them!

Finally, the father brought out a fatted calf (v 23). He gathered his whole house for a feast: to eat, drink and be merry. The fatted calf represents relationship. This was not just a normal feast; this was a covenant feast. The father was reunited with his son, and their relationship had been reconfirmed.

We see covenant feasts most often at weddings. No matter what we’ve done in our life, God gives all of us the same invitation: “Return…for I am married to you” (Jer 3:14)! He is our suitor, and we are (the church is) His bride. God has set the table, and you are the guest of honor. Are you coming?

The Older Brother

The restoration of the younger son is only half of the story. He had an older brother who stayed home with the father his entire adult life. He worked hard every day, and did everything he was supposed to do. And when his younger brother returned home, he was not happy:

Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.” But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.” – Lk 15:25-30

The father had compassion (v 20); but the older brother was angry. He had worked his entire life for his inheritance. His spoiled younger brother, on the other hand, had thrown it all away. What’s more, when he returned home, everything was restored to him! According to the older brother, his bad behavior had been rewarded.

The older brother thought he was righteous because of his works. He knew he had an inheritance, but he didn’t know he had access to it. In v 12, the father, “…divided to them his livelihood.” The use of them means the older brother had received something as well. Yet instead of relying on his inheritance, he ignored it. He thought blessing was something that could only come later, after a lifetime of hard work. So when his younger brother came back and received something for nothing, he was extremely upset.

Some of us are the older brother. We’ve lived good lives. We come to church every Sunday, and we do all the things we’re supposed to do. But we’re miserable. We hear about blessings and inheritance from Heaven, but we miss that it applies to us too. We’re waiting for God to give us something, when all we really have to do is receive, by faith, everything that He’s already given us!

Notice the older brother refuses to identify the younger son as his brother. When speaking to his father, he calls him, “…this son of yours” (v 30). Too often, this is how the church treats prodigal sons and daughters as they walk in our doors. We refuse to call them our brothers and sisters. We refuse to embrace them as part of our family. And as long as we keep our guard up in that way, prodigal sons and daughters who long to come home will be stuck outside the Kingdom!

I remember a time in graduate school when I had a test. I had studied for over a week, and I was ready. I looked around the room at the other students, and I could tell by the looks on their faces that some had studied hard, and others hadn’t studied at all. We all waited nervously for the professor to show up with the exam.

Finally, he arrived. But his hands were empty, and he looked confused. “I forgot the test at home,” he said. “All of you will receive 100%.” Great news, right? I looked around the room, and everyone who hadn’t studied was overjoyed! They had received a free gift. They were all younger sons in the kingdom, enjoying a reward they didn’t earn.

But there were some older brothers in the room, too. The students who had studied hard were angry. They put in all that hard work for nothing! How was it possibly fair that everyone would receive the same grade if they had worked so much harder for it? It wasn’t: but that is God’s mercy.

When others receive a reward, by grace through faith, we shouldn’t be jealous; we should be joyful. The father explained this to the older brother:

And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” – Lk 15:31-32

Don’t miss out on the feast because you’re sulking in the corner. Don’t miss out on the joy because you’re overcome by jealousy. All of us, no matter how hard we’ve worked, are imperfect. Nobody – not you, and not me – deserves the reward we receive in Christ Jesus. But God has given it to us all the same.

There will be joy in heaven for the younger son. Jesus made this abundantly clear to His disciples:

“I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” – Lk 15:7

The father immediately had compassion for his son, and welcomed him home with open arms. Who are we to stand in His way?

A Loving Father

All throughout the Old Testament, we see indications that God is angry at the children of Israel. But there is no such indication in the New Testament. The new covenant relationship we have with God is filled with love – never anger. Biblically speaking, there simply is no indication that we should expect anything but love and compassion from our Daddy God when we yield our lives to Him.

There is no mention throughout the entire narrative of the prodigal son that the father is ever mad at the younger son. In fact, the father only displays one emotion: compassion.

…when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. –Lk 15:20

The loving father was not mad at his imperfect son; and your loving Father is not mad at you, no matter how imperfect you are!

When we take even one step towards God, He comes running to us. He falls on our neck and embraces us. He restores us to righteousness, with full authority to act on His behalf, and the dignity necessary to love and respect ourselves. Then, He invites us to celebrate our New Covenant with Him as often as we like, through worship and praise.

God is not mad at you. We have a flawed assumption that we’re barely squeaking into the Kingdom of God; but the truth is we’re being welcomed back with open arms! All of God’s anger and wrath were poured out on Jesus Christ on the Cross. That means there is none left for you – or for me – to endure. We should thank God for that every single day.

– by Pastor Mike White

© Michael D. White, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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