Sunday School Lesson 1 - Luke 15:20-32 - LOST AND FOUND
LAST WEEK: In Luke 10:25-37, we saw Jesus at the beginning of His journey to Jerusalem and heard Him respond to questions asked by a lawyer with the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan. A lot of people remember this parable as a simple story about helping people in need; however, we learned that Jesus used it as an analogy that illustrates an important spiritual truth. Using the example of the Samaritan, Jesus demonstrated that we (that includes you and me) can't hate other human beings-i.e., our "neighbors"-and still claim to love God. The lawyer in the story ultimately fell short because, based on racial prejudice, he refused to recognize that the Samaritan could be his "neighbor." In contrast, the Samaritan demonstrated God's love for others in a succession of compassionate actions that effectively saved the life of a person in dire need. As Christians, while we can rest with the assurance that out salvation is secure, we can't honestly claim to love God if we refuse to love our "neighbor," and our neighbor can be defined as anyone in need.
THIS WEEK: In Luke 15:20-32, we'll hear Jesus explain the familiar Parable of the Prodigal Son. This chapter of Luke contains three parables that illustrate something that was lost but now is found: the Parable of the Lost Sheep (15:1-7), the Parable of the Lost Coin (15:8-10), and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (15:11-32), which is actually two parables-the Lost Son (vv. 11-24) and the Elder Son (vv. 25-32), which should really be considered together. People love this Parable because the father's forgiveness reassures them that no matter how they have sinned, God will eagerly welcome them home. That's certainly part of the message; however, Jesus told this Parable in response to the criticisms of the Pharisees and Scribes. The real focus of the two parables isn't on the two sons but on a father with two sons who are both flawed in their own way. The father loves both sons and seeks to restore his family, which has been broken by (1) the younger son's departure from his father's home and (2) the elder sons' alienation even though he still lives in the father's home.
Read Luke 15:20-24 - HIS FATHER SAW HIM AND FELT COMPASSION FOR HIM
20 So he set out and came to his father. But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 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.' 22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, slaughter it, and let's eat and celebrate; 24 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.
NOTE: We skip vv. 11-19, which relate how the younger son went to his father and demanded his share of the inheritance, left home for the "far country," and ultimately squandered all his money on "wild living,' only find himself in the middle of a general famine. The only job he found was feeding pigs (an abomination for Jews) and no one offered him charity. When he finally came to his senses, he decided to go home, beg his father for forgiveness, and ask him to take him back as a hired hand.
v. 20a: "So he set out and came to his father." - A famine became the agent of the younger son's salvation. Only when he hit rock bottom did he consider coming home-to repent and return. As he made this journey, he must have feared rejection, but his hope was stronger than his fear.
v. 20b: "But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him" - It's no coincidence that the father sees him; he's surely spent many hours gazing down that road, hoping to see his lost son.
v. 20c: "and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." - When the father dares to believe that's it really him! His lost son! His heart overflows with compassion and his eyes fill with tears of joy. As the distance closed, this father is so joyful that he runs to his lost son, wraps his arms around him, and kisses him. This is a resurrection moment! He's just made it clear to everyone around him that this young man has been fully accepted as his son again-and that people can't reject the son without rejecting the father. (Keep this thought in mind.)
v. 21: " 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." - This is the son's carefully thought-out confession and plea for mercy. He confesses to sinning both against God ("against heaven") and his father, but his father cuts him off before he can ask to be treated as a hired laborer.
v. 22a: "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him" - Coming from a famine, we can imagine that this boy looked like a scarecrow in rags. A typical father in this situation might be considered lenient by simply allowing the son return home at all, and then only after he agrees to do a long list of things that demonstrate he's repented of his reckless ways. Instead, the son gets better then he deserves; and the father gains a son rather than an employee.
v. 22b: "and put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet" - The robe, the ring, and the sandals, like wearing a coat and tie and dress shoes today, all convey dignity and status in the household.
v. 23: "and bring the fattened calf, slaughter it, and let's eat and celebrate;" - Meat wasn't part of the daily diet in those times but normally reserved for special occasions or holy days, and even then, it was most often a less valuable goat or a sheep. They would save the fatted calf for important celebrations that included neighbors or maybe a whole village. This event would send a message that the father had not only restored his lost son to his family but to the community as a whole.
v. 24: "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." - The father probably often wondered whether his wayward son was still physically alive, but in the broader context of this verse, the contrasting terms, dead/alive, lost/found are intended as pictures of God's kingdom: "dead" and "lost" are metaphors for being dead in sin and eternally lost, which was the boy's condition when he left home for the far country. But now, his repentance of his sin and his return to his father signify that he is now "alive" and "found" (i.e., eternally secure).
APPLICATION 1: When we turn away from sin and admit our wrongdoing, we are completely restored to a relationship with God, our Father, and He forgives and forgets our sins. In the Parable, a famine became the agent of the younger son's salvation. Only when he hit rock bottom, did he decide to repent and return. As he started his journey home, he must have feared that his father might reject him and cast him out. However, when the father saw his lost son coming home, he ran to meet him and he never let the boy finish his prepared speech of confession; instead, he welcomed him with hugs and kisses and celebrated his return-It was a resurrection moment!
Read Luke 15:25-30 - HIS OLDER SON WAS IN THE FIELD
25 "Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' 28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29 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 never gave me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.'
Note: In this Parable, the younger son represents the tax collectors and sinners, while the older son symbolizes the Pharisees and the Scribes. Both groups were listening to the parables Jesus taught in this chapter, but the Pharisees and Scribes were His target audience in this particular parable.
v. 25: "Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. " - The older son was doing what he always did: working in his father's fields. Whether the father intentionally neglected to notify the older son of his younger brother's return isn't clear, but on his way home, he heard the music and dancing and wondered what was going on.
v. 26-27: "And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound" - Up to this point, we know nothing about the older son or his feelings, whether positive or negative, about his younger brother.
v. 28a: "But he became angry and was not willing to go in" - The fact that he's angry over the news that his lost brother has been welcomed home tells us a lot about him. We also need to see the irony in the reversal of positions this verse: The brother who had been on the outside is now on the inside, while the brother who had been on the inside is now on the outside. The older brother's antagonism forms a parallel to the Pharisees' mindset toward Jesus' associating with tax collectors and sinners.
v. 28b: "and his father came out and began pleading with him." - Notice that the father "came out" to reconcile with the older son just as willingly as he ran out to greet his younger son. That the father debased himself by "pleading" with the older son shows that he felt the same level of love for him that he had for his younger son. The difference was that the younger son was open to his father's love, while the older son had hardened his heart toward his father and rejected his love. This is a sad moment that shatters the father's joy: he was celebrating the end of his family's brokenness, but now he finds that it's broken in another place.
v. 29: "But he answered and said to his father, 'Look!" - The older son not only addresses his father with disrespect, but in effect orders him to listen to his complaint. This mirrors the verbal abuse that the Pharisees were directing at Jesus.
v. 29b: "For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours;" - Just as the younger son initially discounted his sonship in order to be taken back as a hired hand, the older son has downgraded his sonship by adopting the attitude of a dissatisfied employee. In reality he has been trying to earn his father's love through the attainment of work-related tasks and remains estranged because he's never allowed himself to believe that his father actually loves him for himself. He's like a Pharisee: good at finding fault but poor at expressing or accepting love.
v. 29c: "and yet you never gave me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;" - The paradox of this statement is that he could find a measure of happiness by having a party with his friends but could only find displeasure in the fact that his younger brother has literally returned home from the dead; and in truth, it appears doubtful that he even loved his own father.
v. 30: "but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him." - With the phrase, "this son of yours," the older son renounces any kinship with his younger brother, an expression of unbridled hatred. The accusation against his brother as one, "who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes," is simply hateful speech, since he doesn't really know how his younger brother had spent his inheritance. This echoes the derogatory rumors the Pharisees and Scribes were circulating about Jesus.
Read Luke 15:31-32 - ALL THAT IS MINE IS YOURS
31 And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"
v. 31a: "And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me." - The older son never once used the respectful title "my father" in the preceding verses; yet, the father makes a peace offering, using the word "Son" (notice capitalized "S" Gk. teknon, lit. my child), rather than (Gk. huios, lit. son), as an expression that communicates his feelings of heartfelt love and affection for his estranged son. The phrase, "you have always been with me," could be re-phrased, to say I have always loved you in the past and will always love you in the future. By analogy, Jesus was inviting the Pharisees to come in peace and hear the good news about the kingdom of God.
v. 31b: "and all that is mine is yours." - The father reassures the older son that his inheritance will in no way be diminished by his younger brother's return. (i.e., he will inherit 100% under Jewish Law.) Again, by analogy, the Pharisees need to hear that their spiritual inheritance is not diminished in any way by God's love for sinners. Likewise, the Pharisees need to hear that, in general, they have no right to draw boundaries that that would exclude others from God's presence.
v. 32: "But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found." How can anyone not celebrate the resurrection of a loved one? In the end, neither son deserved a party: the younger son broke all the rules before returning home; and the older son, who always followed the rules, lives a life of self-imposed resentment. Yet, the father welcomed both, and bent over backwards to demonstrate his love to the older son. Jesus ends the story without telling us the outcome of the father's invitation, but we are left with the impression that the father ends up with one repentant younger son and one unrepentant older son. And this was true of Jesus' early ministry: Some believed and followed him, even prominent Jews like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but the Pharisees, Scribes, and Jewish leaders not only criticized and opposed Him at every opportunity but secretly plotted ways to have Him condemned to death.
APPLICATION 2: Anyone who claims to be righteous but hates his brother (or neighbor) is still lost in his or her sins. In the Parable, when the older son confronted his father, he arrogantly proclaimed his own self-righteousness in comparison to his brother's sinful past. He believed his works alone were sufficient to merit his position in his father's household. The Parable illustrated the hostile and confrontational attitudes displayed by the Pharisees and Scribes towards Jesus ministry to people from all walks of life, including social outcasts like tax collectors and sinners. While the Pharisees and
Scribes lived outwardly blameless live according to Jewish Law (legalism), they were inwardly dead in their sins due to their intolerance and hatred of others.