Often we get the message wrong. Jesus did not tell the story of the wayward son to guilt sinners into coming back to God. He told this story and two others because of negative criticism He was receiving from religious experts. First, let’s look at what a prodigal is. Then, let’s see what the point of this story was.
Last week, the Lord showed me that I was once a prodigal. That surprised me. I grew up in church. I never quit going to church. However, prodigal does not mean “backslider” or “rebel against God.” Prodigal means “wasteful.”
Yes, I wasted years of my life. I wasted gifts and opportunities the Lord had given to me. It was hard for me to see because I was busy in life and becoming financially successful.
Right in the middle of making the most money I had ever made God stopped me. We had just moved out of the tiny little place we had been living and moved into a bigger, nicer place. Then it all crashed.
When the owner of our new rental home said they had changed their minds, we had to move out. Disoriented and confused, we sought the Lord and both got the distinct impression that it was time we went back to where we had run away from the Lord. All my business contracts were coming to an end with nothing new—I had not lacked for work up to that time.
You see, I had run away from my calling years before. I took what the Father had given me—gifts, skills, opportunities—and used them for my own selfish desires. Then I came to myself. Even the best of this life felt like a hog pen compared to pleasing the Father.
Our former landlord gave us $3,000 to make up for the abrupt change of plans. We stuffed what we could into a Uhaul and dragged our minivan across the country to where I had walked away from the calling. I had wasted years. My prodigal life did not include drugs or gambling or immoral living. I had simply wasted what the Lord had given me.
Well, there’s a small part of my story, but the end of the story is where I want to start this. My dad welcomed me back and even gave me a place to stay. I am so glad there was someone to celebrate my return. We did not inform my parents we were coming back to town. We just showed up in their lives again with a Uhaul. And they celebrated.
The story is about the father
I don’t want to take away all the good sermons you and I have heard about the Prodigal Son. We need those. But the point of the story is found in Luke 15:2. Religious experts ridiculed Jesus for welcoming those with bad histories in their past.
Jesus told the story of the wasteful son so He could tell about the loving father. While there is an obvious parallel here to how much God loves us, the point of the story was to show the religion pros how to respond to those who turn to the Lord.
What was the point of the parable of the lost sheep? That we should rejoice when the lost are found—even the angels do! What was the point of the story of the lost coin? Celebrate when you find what had gone astray. What is the point of the prodigal son parable? That we love people—that we not worry about getting the scent of the pig pen on us—that we celebrate the restoration of relationship rather than obsessing over how someone wasted God-given opportunities and resources.
How to be the father in the story
You and I have been wasteful at times in our lives. We wasted relationships, exploited finances, and abused opportunities for our own selfish motives on occasion. If this does not apply to you, then you simply must be a web bot crawling this page. All humans have been like the wasteful son.
However, maturity is not that we become like the son and return to the Father. That is repentance. Maturity is when we become like the Father and love those who are coming to Him.
“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” (Luke 15:7).
Angels rejoice because they cannot repent. Those angels who did rebel are bound by darkness and cannot return to the Lord. Humans have the unique opportunity to return and worship the Lord. That still amazes the angels.
How about you? Are you amazed when someone turns from sin? Celebrate them! Rejoice!
If you cannot, you need to repent of the elder-brother spirit. If you do not celebrate with the Father, you are in rebellion against Him. If God can overlook a person’s past, we can, too!