Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Prodigal Son, Line by Line

The Prodigal Son is one of the most famous stories in all of literature, speaking to the deepest part of the souls of fallen humanity. It is a story that dates from the beginning of time when Adam sinned, rejecting his purpose and identity by choosing to believe Satan’s lies over God’ s truth and was cast out of the beautiful garden his Father had made for him. All of mankind has followed in Adam’s footsteps, each one going astray and falling short of the glory of God. Woven through the pages of Scripture, the consummation of this epic tale comes in Luke 15, which beautifully illustrates the acceptance and reconciliation that has been provided for us through Jesus. I invite you to join me on this journey as we walk through this beloved passage line by line.

I hope that each person who reads this can understand and accept the wonderful honor and privilege of entering into a restored relationship with God. It is my sincere hope that each of you can feel empowered to live out your true calling and purpose by realizing 3 truths about your identity as a child and heir.

Luke 15:1-13
And He said, A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with riotous living.

The first thing we learn about this young man is that he has thrown off all authority and rejected the covering and protection of both his father and usurped the authority of his older brother, who would traditionally have overseen his father’s estate. The Hebrew word for this is na’ar, a teenager or young adult who is roaring or one who is separated from his father’s household and without covering and supervision. Not only does he fail to exercise good stewardship over his estate which should have been used to provide for his future family and to care for those in need, but he squanders it on riotous living. This word riotous is asotos in Greek. It means the opposite of sozo, which is the word for salvation. He is engaging in a lifestyle that is both self-destructive and destructive to others. When I click on this word in my logos bible software it automatically links to the Hebrew equivalent of this word, zalal, which means gluttony—He had adopted a lifestyle of devouring everything and everyone around himself. His lifestyle and behavior were the very opposite of a saved person and will ultimately destroy him. Verse 13 makes it clear that he is living an asotos, or unsaved life.

Verses 14-16:
Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the carob pods that the swine were eating, but no one was giving him anything.

Famine is a sign of the absence of God’s blessing and in the Bible, famines usually occurred when the people of an area were worshipping false gods and engaging in sin. Having wasted his entire estate, the prodigal is no longer free to be his own man, but must hire himself out as a servant to another. This was a very low position for a Jewish male. Pigs were an unclean animal and under the Old Covenant, Jews did not eat pork.

Expository note: [Animals, like pigs, which do not “part the hoof,” do not have the sophisticated digestive system of cows and sheep that clean toxins out of their bodies and make them healthy for food. Pigs store toxins in their fat. Not only do they not sweat toxins out, they even eat their own excrement, taking the toxins back in. While Christians can bless their food and make it safe through prayer under the New Covenant, and we can cook meat in better, safer ways to get rid of those toxins, God’s food laws had a purpose and the health and well-being of his people was and still is part of the covenant.]

Caring for pigs is one of the lowest jobs he could have taken. Pigs were often fed carob pods, a sort of sweet fruit to fatten them up. Poor people were also given these pods to eat. The fact that no one would give him any shows the complete disdain with which this man was treated. They treated the animals better than him. They viewed him as less valuable than the pigs—one of the lowest and most despised animals to a Jewish mind. He has sunk as low as he can go.

Verses 17-19:

But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger. I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”

Verse 17 is the turning point of the story. He comes to himself, or comes to his senses. This moment is a picture of God’s call. While God has given all men the ability to make choices, just as this father allowed his son to choose to walk away from him, the choices have consequences. The more a person chooses to believe the lies of satan and to live in a wrongful, sinful lifestyle, the deeper they go into bondage and slavery to sin. What we witness in this verse is the Holy Spirit calling this man to repentance. John 16:8 tells us that the Holy Spirit will “convict all men concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.” This young man has a choice, whether he will return to his father, or continue his life of sin. Hebrews 3:7-8 tells us “Therefore as the Holy Spirit says: Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts….” At this point, he can either choose to repent, to change his mind and return to his father, or he can sink back into his deception and reject the call to repentance. He chooses to repent and go back to his father. He will humble himself and ask for mercy. His physical suffering paints a vivid picture of the spiritual anguish a lost human soul. This verse shows us a picture of freedom, how God’s call can separate a person from harmful, destructive spiritual influences and give them back the freedom to make their own decision. When we proclaim God’s word it has the same effect. “God’s word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged blade, capable of dividing soul from spirit.” His word, whether it comes from His Spirit calling men to repentance, or from the Bible, can separate a person from the lies they have believed and clung to.

Verse 20:
So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

The Father’s reaction is astonishing!!! Under the Old Covenant, such a son, having lived a gluttonous lifestyle and according to verse 30 engaged in the sexual sin that comes with such a lifestyle would have been deserving of the death penalty under the Law. Because of his youth, his Father could have chosen instead, to beat him with the rod as punishment and if he yielded and repented, his life could be spared. Otherwise, he would have been put to death and hung on a tree. [This punishment with rods was NEVER used on someone under the age of 12 and ONLY used on those who had committed very serious crimes.] Unfortunately, since Romans 3:23 tells us that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death, we ALL deserve to be beaten with rods and put to death. But, because Jesus was beaten with rods in our place, scourged and hung on a tree, we have forgiveness of sins. "But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) The rest of Romans 6:23 tells us that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. This young man received correction from the Holy Spirit, instead of the rod. He received GRACE instead of the LAW and he chose to live under grace instead of going back to living the cursed life he was under. Every person must make this choice: “Today I call heaven and earth to witness against you that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, therefore choose life, that you and your children may live.” (Deut. 30:19) If you have never made that decision, I encourage you to accept Jesus into your life today. Repent, just as this prodigal did, ask for forgiveness and invite Jesus into your heart and life to heal, restore and renew you. enter into a relationship with God. 

Verse 21-24
And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ BUT THE FATHER said to his servants ‘Quickly 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 fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found. And they began to celebrate.

This parable follows the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin which tell us that there is rejoicing in heaven and among the angels over one sinner who repents. This is a picture of that type of rejoicing. All children are created by God. All of us, just like sheep, have gone astray. This prodigal son returned to his father and there was great rejoicing. The moment He humbled himself, he was exalted. Here is a mini-lesson on these 4 verses to show just how this incredible teaching applies to our lives:

1. The Robe Represents God’s Anointing
The robe represents being honored, being clothed in righteousness and power.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, Isaiah 61:10

And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. Luke 24:49

Just like Joseph, Daniel, Elisha, and even Jesus, when we come to our Father, we receive a robe that shows we are the true Sons of God and heirs of the kingdom.

2. The Ring Represents Authority
On that day…I will make you like My signet ring, for I have chosen you." This is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.  Haggai 2:23

A signet ring represents the seal and authority of the King. When we become heirs with Jesus, we receive authority to act as God’s representatives.

3. The Sandals Represent Being Sent Out
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. Mark 16:15

How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who proclaims salvation, And says to Zion, "Your God reigns!" Isaiah 52:7

Illustration:
Slaves were not given shoes. Shoes not only represent sonship, but the ability to come in to God’s presence and go out as His ambassadors. When we humble ourselves as servants, Jesus lifts our heads and calls us friends. My pastor has called these the “shoes of peace,” and he is very much correct because when Jesus sent the disciples out he told them to speak Peace first thing to every house they came to. And that is exactly what we are meant to do—to share the good news with everyone that they can have peace with the Father because of what Jesus did for us. We also preach the good news to ALL creation—meaning that we exercise spiritual authority over powers, principalities and spiritual forces of evil to bring the blessings of God’s Kingdom everywhere we go.

Application:
Thank God for the incredible honor to be his ambassador. Think of 3 practical ways you can represent God and bring the blessings of His kingdom to those around you. Ask God if there are any areas of your life where you need to be exercising spiritual authority over the enemy to close doors and take back ground he has stolen. God has honored us. List 2 ways that you can honor someone in your everyday life to show them the kind of dignity, honor, compassion and respect the Father showed the prodigal son. List 3 ways that you can honor prodigals when they show up on the doorstep of the church. Pray for a prodigal that God would grant them freedom from harmful spiritual influences and would send people into their lives to minister to them. Ask God to speak to them and call out to them and miraculously intervene in their lives to reveal his goodness to them.


And Now, THE REST OF THE STORY.....

Part 2: The Other Son

Verse 25-28
Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound. But he became angry and was not willing to go in...

The older son was the firstborn. He can represent anyone who has grown up religiously who becomes jealous of a new believer and the attention they are getting. Earlier in chapter 15, we learn that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance. It was his joy, right and privilege to join the celebration, but instead, he covets the attention being given to his newly restored brother and angrily refuses to enter in and join the family. It is worth noting that dancing is seen here as an appropriate means of celebration when a person returns to their Father, God. One of the principles taught in the parable of the laborers is that those who serve God will receive the same wages, the same eternal reward which is heaven and being in the Father's Presence, whether we are saved young or old, spend a lifetime serving him or a few short years. All believers will be at the great celebration in heaven.

Verse 28-32
...and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours, and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might make merry with my friends, but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him. And he said to him, Son you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.

The older brother can be shown to represent religious leaders and even the nation of Israel as a whole. Israel had always had God's commandments, while the Gentiles did not, though all were rightfully His children (Acts 17:8), the Gentiles had chosen to act in evil ways and become sons of the evil one instead. Most prostitutes were cult prostitutes and a goat was the sacrifice that was used in the wild parties, or Bacchanales of the ancient fertility cult. This cult manifested as Ba'al worship and then as Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology. This mention, along with the tending to pigs, shows how thoroughly Hellenized, or Greek, the prodigal son had become. He was living as a pagan. I believe the older brother is intentionally referencing the fact that he, himself has not participated in such activities. This is more than simply a complaint about not celebrating with his friends, He is emphasizing his own piety. The claim that he had never broken a commandment is false because Romans 3:23 says that "ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." This brother represents Jews who rely on good works and the law for their salvation, instead of grace and this passage paints a picture of how many Jews rejected Gentile believers, refusing to celebrate their acceptance by God. This is a very hypocritical position, since the nation of Israel had very much gone astray and committed all of the same sins as their pagan counterparts. The Old Testament presents the story of Israel, as God's prodigal son, going astray and prophesies God's plan of redemption and reconciliation. Even the Pharisees of Jesus' day, had dark hearts and secret sins. He called them whitewashed tombs--beautiful on the outside, but rotten internally. Even one failure to follow the law is breaking God's covenant. No one can come into the Father's house except by grace. The older son could no more claim perfection than the nation of Israel could. Even in this instance, the Father comes to plead with the older son to enter in. This is the position He takes with unbelieving Jews today, who have been cut off from their own family tree through stubborness and hardness of heart. This passage shows that God's promises still stand true for Israel, but they must choose to accept the Father's invitation and enter in to the celebration. Just like any person who has grown up in church, but never accepted Jesus as saviour, the unsaved Jews, the nation of Israel has become like the older brother, standing outside of the Father's house, refusing to enter in. 

As believers, it is not our position to judge who is worthy of hearing the good news of salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53:6 says: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Jesus has provided the way for us to be reconciled with the Father and He has judged all people worthy of hearing the message and being given the opportunity to accept the invitation and be welcomed home. It is not our place to point fingers, throw past sins and accusations at them in front of the father and say unworthy--it is our place to celebrate and welcome new believers home in the same way that we were welcomed home. They have been rescued, forgiven and given a clean slate, just as we have been saved and forgiven. 



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