“And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” Luke 15:11-32
Zac Howsare is the pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Newark, Delaware.
This is a familiar passage to many a Christian. Oh yes this passage is indeed known as the parable of the prodigal son, but I contend that the younger son was not the only one who was not right in his heart! I believe that tucked into this passage there is something for each one of us.
This truth helped me when I was away from God. This truth helped me when I was the right one with wayward family members. Even now this truth continues to help me now that I’m a parent. So I hope that as you read this, you’ll look for yourself in the three that we will look at.
You see folks “prodigal” does not mean “away”…it simply means “wasteful”. Oh my, how many of us fall into this description. Wasteful of money, wasteful of time, wasteful of purity, wasteful of training, wasteful of upbringing, wasteful of our mind. We as Christians must be careful to not become wasteful of that with which we’ve been entrusted!
I want us to look at the 3 primary characters in this parable, and challenge us as each of us will fall into one of these roles.
First, The Prodigal that Left
First we see the prodigal that we all know. We see here a young man raised in a good home by a loving mother and father. He was the younger of two sons. Though the first born would receive a double portion, we see throughout the Bible that the youngest son was often set apart from the rest. Moses, for instance, was the youngest in his family, but God chose him to lead His people. David was the youngest boy in the family, and God chose him to be king, a man after God’s own heart. Benjamin was the son of promise for his father and was loved above the rest.
This young man had potential for greatness. He was given the choicest of what his family could offer. He was raised to love God. He had a family that loved God, and loved him enough to not spare the rod. Though this young man had been raised in a godly home with two Christians for parents, he had rebellion in his heart. Though he was trained correctly, he did not heed his upbringing, and in this way was wasteful with the investment of his counselors and parents.
This young man went along with the program outwardly, but in his heart was as distant from his parents as he was from his God. He had no joy singing the old hymns, he had no joy in his personal worship, he had no joy when it came time for church. It is certain that this young man’s prayer closet had turned cold. He had little by little for years grown farther and farther from God in his heart, until one day his pride and resentment of godly parents drove him to the point that he could wait no longer. He’d heard the stories of those drunken with wine. He’d heard of the promiscuity of his ungodly peers. He’d heard about the wild parties. He’d seen the rich and powerful at the markets with their costly apparel and luxurious lifestyle. He decided he was going to have the fun that those whom he had envied had boasted of. He was no longer content just hearing about them; he had to try them out for himself.
Oh but he could not wait until he was old, he had to have it now. Just like Esau, this young man was so hungry for the temporal that he gave no thought for the eternal, and just as flippantly, he went to his father and demanded his portion. This would have been a slap in the face to his father. Typically the substance would not be divided until the father’s death. This young man was basically saying to his father, “You might as well be dead, because all you are to me is what I can get from you.” He demanded it!
Just as many a young man or woman foolishly and with self-entitlement demand their freedom or their will. This young man receives his substance – and this was not just money, this would’ve been all material things. Some livestock, some money, perhaps some jewelry passed down several generations, grain harvested that his father had reaped. He took it and went as far as he could from everything that reminded him of his Christian upbringing. Like many a young person when they rebel, he decided to get as far away from God and all that is right as they can. Their Facebook, their Instagram, their Snapchat. Their music, entertainment and friends – all as far away from what is right as is possible.
Indeed the most vile are not the lost, but those saved individuals that are seeking a far country. He tried to get away from everything that reminded him of his father and his Christian upbringing. He found the loosest women, the strongest drinks, and the cheapest thrills. He got himself some friends, and finally got to enjoy all the pleasures that he had dreamed of for so long. Oh what a fun time his season of sin was. Until...
Until one day he woke up in an alley, red-eyed with a pounding headache and hung over without a friend in sight. As he reached into his sack for another item to sell, he found nothing therein but empty wine bottles. He staggered to the house of one who had been a friend while the money lasted, but he was denied lodging. As he continued to stagger in hunger, he made his way to the house of another, and yet another and so on. To his shock, not one who had partied with his substance would spare neither bed nor morsel of food for him.
Starving, cold, and weary, he held fast to his stubbornness. Just like many a saved young person rebelling and struggling, harden their faces and hold fast to their rebellion. Eventually he found himself a place to sleep and some food to eat. Oh, but the only place that he could sleep was in the barn with some livestock, and his only meat was the husks of the corn that the pigs had left over.
Sitting at the hog trough having lost his friends, lost his fortune, and lost his fun, he began to remember the smell of his mama’s cooking; the warmth of his own bed; and the love of his parents. Then the Bible says “...he came to himself.” Let me say this: If you are prodigal #1, you know you are, and so does everyone else!
You’ve no interest in serving God, and you haven’t for some time – you’re rebellious and unyielding.
You know what is right and you’ve been trained right. You’ve had folks invest in you, and still you insist on doing what YOU want to do! Your social media and your music choices prove it. Your dress and entertainment prove it!
You’re going to do what you want to do, and if no one else likes it you don’t care. You use the excuse of not living for men to justify living a life contrary and in defiance to the very God that saved you. You’re wasting the investment of your parents – the investment of teachers and counselors – the investment of men of God who have loved you – all for some fun that is going to leave you empty and hungry and alone. Oh you may not be there yet, but let me tell you, your pigsty days are coming baby!
“Not me!” – Well yes, you! God says, “...be sure your sins will find you out.” You may not like everything that the Bible says, but this Book is all or nothing! If what it says about salvation is true, then so is this!
You go ahead! Go ahead and paint the town red, but one of these days you’re going to wake up and hate the color red. When the pregnancy test comes back positive, you’re going to hate the color red. When you hurt those you love, you’re going to hate the color red. Parents, when your children turn out to be heathen, you’re going to hate the color red, all for some cheap fun.
If this is you here reading this message, Please, I’m begging you, go back home! I’ve seen the teenage guys who just had to find out for themselves, and now have regret in place of where their joy once was. I’ve sat with a teenage mother who’s lost a child and had their man leave, and now is empty, used, and feels worthless. I’ve seen fathers leave a loving wife and beautiful children to chase their sin, and then wake up having burned the bridges back to their family. I come to you today, not as a preacher, but as a man who has seen the post-season of sin; a man who has seen those who wasted their substance, and I beg of you, come to yourself, and come home to your Father!
Next, The Prodigal That Stayed
Here we see a young man with an identical upbringing. Though he had the same family and the same opportunities, it was harder on him because he was the eldest. More was expected of him, and more responsibility was given to him. He said all the right things; he did all the right things. When he noticed sin in his brother’s life that was not made known to his parents, he made no attempt to fix it. He was the “good son” and would be rewarded thusly for being obedient.
The day when his brother made his demands and left, this son was not shaken. Rather than pleas for his brother to stay, all he had were feelings of apathy and indifference. “Let him do what he wants. It’s just me now.” But his parents changed when his brother left. No more celebrations, no more beautiful feasts. Not only did he not receive extra attention from his parents, but they were sorrowful and grieving. “Don’t you care that you still have one son here with you? I’ve obeyed, I’ve worked. Don’t I deserve some extra glory?”
Still he continued with the program. He was at church when he should be. He was in his place when he was needed. Sure, He did his alms to be seen of men, but at least he did his alms. He seemed to be the perfect young man, but in his heart was hate for the one that had left. In his heart was bitterness towards his parents.
One day when he came back from sowing in the field he heard a commotion in the servant’s quarters. He heard his mother’s joyful shout that he had not heard in ages. He heard the words, “IT’S HIM!” As he makes his way past the barn, he sees his father bringing in his long lost brother, and all that resentment in his heart came to a boil. He had stayed. He had done everything that was asked, but where was the feast for him? – Where was the robe for him? Where was the ring for him?
“I’ll not go in! I’ll not join the celebration of this sinful son’s return!” As his father comes out to meet him he spills out all the ill regard that’s been in his heart. “I’ve worked for you, served for you, loved you, and never even was a kid goat killed for me. Why should he get all that he has? Why would you celebrate for him? He’s wasted what we’ve worked so hard for!” With tearful eyes his father looks and says, “Son, ALL that I have is thine. Your brother was dead and now is alive! Please come and join the celebration.”
Those of you who have stayed, I wonder…Are you bitter? – Have you seen those raised as your equals wander off? Have you seen siblings and friends raised right leave for the far country? They knew better, they were raised better, and still they left. Oh you have stayed, but let’s be honest, you’re not breaking any barriers spiritually. You’re in your place (partly because your faithfulness is known to others.) You live a “good life”, but to be honest you’ve not so much as shed a tear lately for those that are away from God. They left, they hurt you, and they could just stay gone for all you care.
When folks ask, “How’s so and so?” Your response is: “Doing what he always does. Same old, same old.” There’s no compassion, no love, no remorse. Or maybe you’re not bitter, maybe you’re just apathetic. “If they come back, who cares! If not it wouldn’t surprise me.” I wonder dear friend, when’s the last time they got a text or note from you telling them you love them? Are you “prodigal” with your opportunities to love them?
In the book of Philemon when Paul spoke of Onesimus, Paul told Philemon that the person who should be most excited to see someone get right, are those who knew them when they were away and now get to see them return. Maybe you exhibit the ABC’s of the prodigal that stayed – Apathetic, Bitter, and Cold to those who’ve left. If this is you today I beg you to get right. Maybe you’re the reason they’re not coming back. And if you don’t get right it won’t be too long before you yourself leave. Let me say, if you haven’t left, IT PAYS TO STAY! See the father’s substance had been multiplying the whole time the younger son was gone. And now everything that was increased was for the son that had stayed. If you’ve stayed but you’re prodigal in your heart, please get right! If you’ve stayed and you’re right, it pays to stay right!
Last, The Faithful Father
Can you see him? A father who has loved his wife and his boys. He’s worked hard these many years trying to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. He’s gotten up early and stayed up late trying to provide for his family. He’s done all that he knew to do, but still his younger son chose to leave. He’s watched his son walk away with no guarantee that he’ll ever see him again.
I see him as his wife gathers the servants and his son together each morning for breakfast. . Each morning she has to go to the front porch because this father was out there before the sun was up watching for his son. I see him sitting down to eat and as he blesses the food he looks over at his son’s empty seat at the table. As his voice begins to break he says “And Lord, we ask that you bring our boy back to us today.” After breakfast is over he disappears. As his wife comes looking she sees him pressing the robe that he has hanging in his son’s room, keeping it ready for his return. “I think today’s the day” he says as he falls into her embrace.
As the day waxes on, I see him carrying a bucket of grain into the barn. As two servants see him, I hear one say to the other “Is he feeding that calf again? That’s the third calf he’s fattened up since that boy left!! Can’t he see he’s not coming back?!”
As the call for dinner sounds, I see the mother go to the porch to find her husband polishing a ring. With tear stained cheeks I hear him say “Wait till he sees how this ring shines, honey!”
I hear her say “The table is set, dear. Please come eat.” His dinner routine follows suit with breakfast. When dinner is finished he says to the oldest, “Son, will you bring some oil to the porch for me?”
“AGAIN?” Says the frustrated son.
“I just want to be sure that the lantern is full so your brother can see it shining if he comes home tonight.” As he fills the lantern he scans the horizon with the last bit of daylight and breathes a sigh of sorrow as he looks at the very place he saw his son’s silhouette disappear. As his wife pulls down the sheet for bed she knows right where her husband is. She goes to her son’s bedroom to see him at the foot of the bed, shining a new pair of shoes for his son’s return. “There must be an inch of polish on those by now, honey! Please come to bed!” she says as her voice breaks.
As they kneel beside their bed to pray for their son’s return they weep together. “He’ll be here in the morning” he says as they slip into bed together. As she holds her husband’s face in her hands, I hear her say, “I hope so too.”
The day dawns and as she rises she sees the other side of the bed is empty. Her husband has already had his prayer time and brewed some coffee. She comes to the kitchen to see him at the window pouring another cup of coffee and scanning the horizon. As he takes another sip of coffee he peers into the distance. His eyes fixated – THERES SOMETHING OUT THERE! It’s…It’s a person! The silhouette is thinner than his son’s and his gait is somewhat staggered, but there’s no mistake! IT’S HIM!! HE’S COMING HOME!!
“Honey, grab the ring! Have the servants get the robe and shoes!” As he runs out to the edge of the fencing he passes a servant and says “Go get the calf! He’s here! MY BOY’S COME HOME!!” As he comes to his son, the boy’s weakened and malodorous body collapses into his embrace.
“Dad I’m sorry! Dad please let me come home! I’ll be a servant! I just want to be with you!”
“My son, MY SON! Welcome home!!” On that morning, every ounce of grain that was fed to that calf became worth it, every drop of oil in that lamp became worth it, every can of shoe polish became worth it, every prayer prayed became worth it!! “My son which was dead is alive!” Oh my, dear friends, can you imagine the joy?! Can you imagine the rejoicing?!
Would to God we had some parents like this father! Would to God we had some parents that would get a burden again and pray for their children! We need less actors and more agonizers, less fellowshipping, and more fasting, less playing church and more pleading on our knees! What we need more than children’s choirs, youth activities and women’s fellowships is some burdened mamas and daddies, brothers and sisters on their faces before their God lifting up that one who is gone away!
Billy Sunday said “There aren’t enough demons in Hell to pull a boy out of the arms of a praying mother!” And I believe that, but where are the praying parents? Where are the praying siblings? We’ve become so use to those that are away being away that we no longer agonize! We no longer plead! It’s as if though we’ve just accepted that they’re gone!
Can you imagine if this father was a typical parent in today’s world? The boy returns home to find his family gone and someone else in the house. He comes in and says “Where is my father?”
“Oh the old man sold this land to me! He was tired of all the work with the livestock and the fields and what-not. You know it’s a lot of work for an old man to be doing.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! Where did they go!?”
“Oh they headed off in that direction!”
“No! I just came from there! There’s nothing there for them!”
So many Christians are tired of fighting! They’re tired of standing on their own! It’s too much work! We’ve got more parents than ever quitting on God after their kids move on! Hey mom, Hey dad! Where are they going to go if you sell out!? They’re not going to have anywhere to go if they DO return! You say, ‘Well I’m not a parent!” You are special to somebody! The men that helped me the most in my life weren’t family! They were men and ladies, and other young people who loved God and led me in the way that I should go.
Hey, Sunday School teacher! Hey, Deacon! Hey Christian school teacher! Hey Teenager! You’ve got folks looking up to you!
While driving down a country road one afternoon with my father-in-law, we passed an old dilapidated barn. My father-in-law shook his head and said “What a shame! It never should have happened.” When I asked to what he was referring, he began to tell me of that old barn. He said that it was once a beautiful barn, carefully painted and well maintained. Over the years, however, it was neglected. It was not kept up, and over the years it began to decay and today it is useless.
I could take you to life after life of men that were once faithful, families that were once faithful, and young people who were once faithful, but they’ve fallen and I say “IT NEVER SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED!!”
If you are reading this today and spiritually you are the faithful father to someone, let me beg you to not sell the farm! Don’t allow yourself to get so wearied of keeping the farm that you lose sight of that day when the wayward prodigal returns! If we, as faithful Christians, sell out to the world, there will be no place for the ones that are away to return, no place to come home to. It pains me to see young people and parents alike who have sold the farm spiritually and now their life, and their homes are just a dilapidated heap where once a great Christian stood.
As a young man, I once sought a far country. I was once that wayward child, and it was not a revival meeting or a youth conference that brought me home. What brought me home was seeing the tears of my single mother who had faithfully been keeping the farm. Let me tell you something folks, God says that we will reap the rewards of faithfully doing the work and keeping the farm for the wayward – IF we faint not.
If you’re reading this today and you’re the prodigal who is away, I beg of you as a man who has those he loves chasing the far country, please come home to God’s will and God’s blessing!
If you’re the prodigal that stayed, as a man that has seen friends driven further into the far country by the resentment of others – please stay and love those that have gone away.
If you’re one who is faithfully praying for the return of one who has left, I beseech you as one who was once in the far country – please keep the farm! Don’t get discourged and give up.