Luke 15:18–19 (ESV) … “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’”
Luke 15 has been called the chapter of lost things. This final example of loss and restoration is perhaps the most poignant. Here Jesus expressed most vividly the foolishness of sin and the faithfulness of God. The parable begins with a man, probably very wealthy, and his two sons. It is his younger son who wanted to leave home. He asked for his inheritance money ahead of the death of his father. In ancient times it was not unknown for sons to receive their inheritance while their father was still alive. Indeed, this is how Abraham treated his son Isaac, giving also smaller gifts to his other children (Gen. 25:5, 6).
The son then went into a far country and ‘wasted his possessions with prodigal living’ (v. 13). Just exactly where all his money went, we are not told, but the later reference to ‘harlots’ (v. 30) is the way our Lord expected the story to be taken. Our sins can leave us in rags (Prov. 23:21) and the prodigal son had the same experience. A famine came, and so desperate was the young man’s situation that he became a farmhand, feeding pigs. These animals were considered unclean under Jewish law (Lev. 11:7), and therefore such work was all the more humiliating.
Eventually the young man became hungry for pigswill! How our sin degrades and mocks us! It seems attractive to us to satisfy lust or to live without concern for any morality. Yet look at the price-tag! This young man found that sin cost him his self-respect and his happiness.
It was then he ‘came to himself’ and remembered that he had a home. He had a caring father and used to eat nourishing food, so he decided to go back, not as a son, but as a servant. He would ask nothing but low-status employment in his father’s business. Shortly afterward, the father saw a figure in the distance. Imagine, the young man so much thinner now—perhaps barely recognizable. He ran to his lost boy. He did not stand still reprovingly in the dignity which was rightfully his, but ran to his son, embraced him and threw a party for him.
The elder brother, as would be typical in such circumstances, was less impressed, seeing no reason for celebration. Yet the father had to teach him something about the joy of a restoration. The past, the foolishness, the squandering of a small fortune was all forgotten. Not one reference is made to it by the father.
In this parable Jesus conveyed something of the great and deep love of God. Returning backsliders are welcomed by their Heavenly Father. Come to him if as yet you have never trusted in him. What a welcome awaits the broken-hearted sinner! What joy! What acceptance! What comfort!