A Father Who Runs – Luke 15:11-32
Luke 15 – Three parables or stories Jesus tells; Parables of Joy
V1 – Pharisees complain that Jesus is eating with “sinners.” In the ancient world, breaking bread was a sign of full acceptance. Jesus isn’t just “tolerating” these sinners; he’s fully welcoming them around the table. These tax collectors and public sinners are drawn to Jesus. He receives them with the same compassion we discussed last week.
But this draws the ire of the Pharisees, which prompts Jesus to tell three stories.
V3-7, The Parable of the Lost Sheep
It really ought to be called the Parable of the Found Sheep, because that’s the point. Man w/ 100 sheep; loses one. Impact is not as severe as in the final story; yet, the actions are indicative of one who is deeply concerned when even one sheep has gone astray. He leaves the 99 and pursues the one who is lost. In the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Do you know why? Because there’s no such thing as a righteous person who does not need to repent.
These self-righteous Pharisees think they’re in the clear; that they have nothing to repent of — and this is the height of human pride, which is a sin.
Ultimately, though, sheep are replaceable. The impact of that which is lost increases in the next story Jesus tells.
V8-10, The Parable of the Lost Coin
Same thing; should be known as the Parable of the Found Coin. In this story, the impact of that which is lost has increased. 10 silver coins, 1 is lost. 10% loss of income. This is significant. So our heroine sweeps and searches and sweeps and searches until she finds this coin of great value. And when she finds the lost coin, she throws a party, because this is the kind of news that’s meant to be shared!
And yet, coins are replaceable, too. We understand her plight, because we’ve all misplaced things from time to time.
Years ago, Sunny and I took a trip out West to Colorado with our good friends, Corey and Alisha. We’d all only been married a few months and in those first months, I had a hard time adjusting to wearing a wedding ring. Like most men, I’d never worn a ring before; my finger would itch, it would irritate me. I’d take it off at restaurants, play with it. It was December and we drove up to Pike’s Peak; got out and walked around. Huge snow drifts, beautiful view. Got out, walked around a little, took a few pictures, and just before we hopped in the car, I noticed that my wedding ring had slipped off.
I just knew it was going to be a lost cause; we’d walked around several spots there trying to find a good place to take a picture. I’ll never for the life of me know how she did it, but Alisha spotted it and yelled, “I found it!”
This ring means a lot to me, and replacing it would be difficult because of the sentimental value associated with it. But in the end, this wouldn’t have been a tragic story if I’d never found my ring.
But the final story Jesus tells is the story of a man with two sons; and for a period of time, one of them is lost. We understand why this story resonates so deeply with us: a human life is a lot different than material possessions.
V11-32, The Parable of the Lost Son
Really, this is poor title for this parable; the hero of the story is the father. He’s a Loving Father, a father who runs; more to say about that in a moment. Read v11-32.
The first two stories certainly stand on their own; good teaching there for us. But they also serve as something of a set-up. In the first two stories, Jesus asks these rhetorical questions that assume the hearers / readers will agree that what is about to be recounted is self-evidently true:
- V4, Does the shepherd not leave the 99 in open country and go after the lost sheep?
- V8, Does this woman not light a lamp, sweep the house, looking until she finds the coin?
But in the final story, the pattern is broken: the father doesn’t behave in the way everyone would have anticipated. He does not go in search of the lost son and seek until he finds him.
Of the two sons, the story focuses most of the attention on the younger one. That always happens with the baby of the family, right? Nothing cute about what this young man says, though. V12, The younger son said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.”
What a brat! Based on an interpretation of Deut. 21:17, the younger son, this young man would’ve inherited 1/3rd of the estate at his father’s death, compared to the 2/3rds his older brother would’ve received. That’s not in question. But the way this young man goes about this is just all kinds of wrong. Cold-blooded and offensive. In essence, he’s saying, “I can’t wait for you to be dead so I can have what’s coming to me.” One scholar I read this week said this: “It was as though the boy considered his father already dead and regarded himself as breaking family relationships forever.”
The word “prodigal” means “recklessly wasteful” and that’s a good description of what happens next in this young man’s life. He journeys to a distant country – listening with Jewish ears, we should hear “a godless country” – and engages in “wild living” (v13).
He spends all his money and then famine hits. He’s the life of the party as long as he has a little jingle in his pocket, but when the hard times hit, his friends all abandon him. He resorts to feeding the pigs – which illustrates just how low he has sunk. He reaches rock bottom in v16, “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” For the Jewish people, this is the lowest of the low: even the filthy pigs have more to eat than you do.
I want to pause right here and point out something: this is the ultimate end of self-centered living. Some of you have been here, I know; others of you are pained right now because this is the story of your children, your spouse, your parents, your close friends, etc.
- Self-centered living is fun…for a while. You call the shots. You make the rules. You’re in the driver’s seat. Like this young man, there are no parents to report to; no God to try and appease. The pleasure principle rules the day. It’s a lot of fun. At least while it lasts.
- But here’s the part they don’t tell you…it doesn’t last! Eventually, the money runs out, the party ends, the buzz fades, and you’re left feeling empty. And that’s when you have a choice to make: you either have to double down and party even harder to achieve the same buzz or you come to your senses and you start to realize that there’s something greater to live for. There’s a better story to tell with your life.
But I want to state it as clearly as possible: the ultimate end of self-centered living is isolation. When you live only for yourself, you find yourself living all by yourself. This young man wakes up one morning and realizes how lonely and small his life has become; no friends, no family, no relationship he can count on.
And this is the rock bottom revelation that transforms his life.
He decides that this self-centered existence will not be the defining story of his life. Instead, he decides to take the long walk back home. He takes responsibility. He’s not a sheep or a coin; he’s a human being, therefore it is incumbent upon him to take the first step toward home. He realizes that his father’s servants have it better than he does. So he turns for home; he starts rehearsing his speech: “Dad, I’ve made a mistake. I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.” This young man puts himself in the category of the “sinners” that Jesus has been spending time with — the same group that the Pharisees want nothing to do with. And this is what makes all the difference in this young man’s life: his rock bottom revelation leads to repentance.
The young man rehearses another line: I’m no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men. In this inner monologue, the young man acknowledges that he’s wronged both his earthly father and his heavenly Father. He’s giving up his claim of sonship; he simply asks to be a servant.
But this is where the story turns. Look again at v20: 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.
Do you remember what we said about Jesus last week? He looks on the crowd in Mark 6 and He has compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus uses the same word here to describe the heart of this father: he was filled with compassion to the degree that he runs to greet his son.
In the ancient world, wealthy men like this didn’t get in a hurry for anything. It would’ve been considered undignified in the eyes of the community. Wherever you’re going, if you’re wealthy enough, they’ll wait on you. YOU don’t hurry for anything. But this father in the story doesn’t really care about conventional norms — sort of like Jesus, who really doesn’t care about the fact that these Pharisees are troubled that He eats with “sinners.”
The father runs — because that’s what fathers do when their children come home. I want you to picture this lovesick father standing on the porch, staring down the road, hoping and praying that he’ll see his son’s silhouette rounding the bend one day. And when he finally returns — imagine the joy that is in this father’s heart!
Look at the verbs used to describe the father here:
– He sees his son
– He runs to greet his son
– He embraces his son
– He kisses his son
The son’s rehearsed speech doesn’t matter.
His tattered and worn out clothes don’t matter.
The fact that he smells like pig-slop doesn’t matter.
The only thing that does matter is this: he’s come home.
We have a father who runs. When we take one step toward home, the father comes running.
Have you been in the far country?