We title this article a “return” to the prodigal son because we have addressed this parable before, and no doubt every reader has both read and heard lessons on the parable. Yet, there may be a need to look at it a little closer. The parable under consideration is found in Luke, chapter fifteen. Notice that there are three parables in this same chapter, and all three involve something being lost. First, there was the lost sheep (vs. 3-7), then the lost coin (vs. 8-10) and finally the lost son (vs. 11-32). The most obvious lesson for us in all three is that one should rejoice when that which is lost is found. However, let us be sure we keep firmly in mind, that being parables that which we are to rejoice for is neither sheep, coins nor sons who have left home. It is lost souls.
We usually apply this parable in the sense of a child of God that has gone astray, and it most accurately fits this scenario. However, it can also be applied to the alien sinner who has never come to be a child of God, for that person has also left God by way of being separated from Him by sin (Isa. 59:1-2). Man leaves God, not the other way around. It is therefore up to man to come back to God. Jesus Christ is that means of reconciliation that God has provided. Paul wrote, “And all things are of God, who bath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (II Cor 5:18). Thus, no matter where one stands, this parable may provide some valuable insight in how to be eternally saved.
It would seem that the starting point for the downfall of this son was a misplaced priority. He desired the material blessings of this life more than the praise of his father. Wanting the material things of life more than being faithful to God is deadly. James wrote, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:36-37). The apostle Paul wrote, “But they that will be rich fall into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”. (I Tim. 6:9-10). Don’t forget the words of God to the rich man building more and more barns; “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou has provided” (Luke 12:20). The prodigal son would never have left home had he his priorities right.
Another important point from this parable is that the father allowed the son to leave. He did not withhold from him that which he desired. The son had a choice to make, and he made the wrong choice. In the long ago, a clear statement was made to the nation of Israel through Moses. God said to them, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). James said, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is draw away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:13-15).
One who never gets into a tight spot, never has to get out of a tight spot. One who has not departed from the ways of the Lord does not have to be reconciled to the Lord. Common sense tells us the best way is to not go astray in the first place, doesn’t it. However, we know that we all sin. The apostle John, writing to Christians said that anyone who said they had no sin, deceive themselves, the truth is not in them, make God a liar and God’s word is not in them (I John 1:8, 10). The text of our parable says of the young man, “And when he came to himself” (v. 17). When we have been pricked in our hearts by the word of God and the guilt of our sins, we need to do as did those alien sinners on the day of Pentecost and ask, “what shall we do?”. The answer to this question may differ for different people, not because God requires different things (Acts 10:34), but because not all who come to this point are in the same spiritual condition. Those outside of Christ will have to obey the first principles of the gospel of Christ in order to be saved people (Acts 2:37-41). Those who have strayed away simply have to do much like the son in the parable, confess their sins, repent of their sins and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; I John 1:9). We do not want to loose coins, animals or children, but greatest of all, we need to rejoice when a lost soul has been found. Therefore, first guard your own soul by placing as your number one priority, faithfully obeying God’s word. Then live that word and ever watch for signs that you have strayed from the path.
Robert Oliver is pastor of The Church of Christ and a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent. Send any questions or comments to: [email protected]