1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: …
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants,[c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 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.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
Although this is a very familiar passage, when I read Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God last year, I discovered meaning in the passage that I’d never noticed before. I’m not sure whether that’s because all the sermons I’d ever heard on the passage finished at v. 24, or whether I just stopped listening when any preacher started talking about the older brother, but I decided to do a study on this passage, bearing in mind that in v.11 Jesus starts by saying “There was a man who had two sons”. Also noting from v.1-3 that Jesus is telling this parable in response to the scribes and Pharisees, gives some indication that the older brother’s role in the story is important, and, as suggested by the title of Tim Keller’s book, the father in the story tells us something about what God is like.
However, although I have been influenced by Tim Keller, I deliberately didn’t re-read The Prodigal God while preparing this study because, unlike the book reviews I’ve done in the past, this was intended to be a Bible Study. We’re not here to study what Tim Keller or anyone else says about this passage, but rather what Jesus himself said, which is a more daunting prospect for me than a book review; if I say something wrong here I can’t blame the author of the book I’m talking about, but I trust God will help us understand what he was saying here.
In my analysis of this passage, I eventually settled on 3 points to look at: The Goat, The Grace & The God.