Unveiling the Prodigal Son Parable | Parables Bible Study #5

Parables Bible Study #5 – The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

Pastor Duke Taber

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Introduction

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well-known and beloved stories in the Bible. Found in the Gospel of Luke, this parable is the third and final story in a trilogy of parables that Jesus tells in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes over His association with sinners.

Like the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin, the Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates God’s heart for the lost and His joy over their repentance. However, this parable also goes deeper, exploring themes of sin, rebellion, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration.

Through the story of a wayward son who squanders his inheritance and returns home in shame, only to be embraced by his loving father, Jesus reveals the depths of God’s mercy and grace. He shows us that no matter how far we wander or how much we fail, God is always ready to welcome us back with open arms.

As we study this parable, may we be reminded of the incredible love and compassion of our Heavenly Father. May we be challenged to turn from our own sin and rebellion and to run into His embrace. And may we be inspired to extend the same mercy and grace to others, reflecting the heart of God to a lost and broken world.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when you think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son?
  2. Have you ever experienced a time when you felt distant or separated from God due to your own choices or actions? How did God bring you back to Himself?
Parables Bible Study #5 - The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

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The Story

The Parable of the Prodigal Son begins with a man who has two sons. The younger son approaches his father and asks for his share of the inheritance, essentially wishing his father dead and seeking to sever his ties with the family. Shockingly, the father agrees and divides his property between the two sons.

The younger son takes his inheritance and journeys to a far country, where he squanders his wealth in reckless living. When a severe famine arises, he finds himself in desperate need, and he hires himself out to a citizen of that country, who sends him into his fields to feed pigs. The son is so hungry that he longs to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs are eating, but no one gives him anything.

At this point, the son comes to his senses and realizes the depth of his predicament. He says, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 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 15:17-19, ESV).

So the son arises and returns to his father. But while he is still a long way off, his father sees him and is filled with compassion. He runs to his son, embraces him, and kisses him. The son begins his rehearsed speech, confessing his sin and unworthiness, but the father interrupts him. He calls to his servants, saying, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:22-24, ESV).

The story then shifts to the older son, who is working in the field. As he approaches the house, he hears music and dancing, and he calls one of the servants to ask what is happening. When he learns that his brother has returned and that his father has killed the fattened calf to celebrate, he becomes angry and refuses to go in.

His father comes out and entreats him, but the older son vents his frustration. He complains that he has served his father for many years and never disobeyed a command, yet he has never been given even a young goat to celebrate with his friends. But when his brother, who has squandered his inheritance with prostitutes, returns, the father kills the fattened calf for him.

The father responds with tenderness and wisdom. He says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:31-32, ESV).

Reflection Questions:

  1. What details in the parable stand out to you, and why?
  2. How does the father’s response to the younger son’s return reveal the heart of God towards sinners who repent?

The Characters

The Parable of the Prodigal Son features three main characters: the younger son, the father, and the older son. Each character represents a different aspect of the human condition and our relationship with God.

The Younger Son

Parables Bible Study #5 - The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

The younger son represents the sinner who rebels against God and pursues a life of self-indulgence and reckless living. His request for his inheritance is a shocking disregard for his father’s authority and a desire to be free from any restraint or responsibility.

When he finds himself in desperate circumstances, the younger son is forced to confront the consequences of his choices. He realizes that his pursuit of pleasure and independence has left him empty and destitute. His decision to hire himself out to feed pigs, which were considered unclean animals by the Jews, underscores the depth of his degradation.

However, the turning point for the younger son comes when he “comes to himself” and realizes that even his father’s hired servants have it better than he does. This moment of clarity leads him to repent and return home, even if it means being treated as a servant rather than a son.

The younger son’s journey is a picture of the human condition apart from God. We are all prone to wander and to pursue our own desires and plans, even when they lead us away from God’s love and protection. We may find ourselves in desperate circumstances, realizing the emptiness and futility of a life lived apart from God.

But like the younger son, we can always turn back to God in repentance. No matter how far we have wandered or how much we have squandered, God is always ready to welcome us home. The younger son’s story reminds us that the way back to God is through humble repentance and a willingness to receive His mercy and grace.

The Father

Parables Bible Study #5 - The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

The father in the parable represents God and His incredible love and compassion for sinners. From the beginning of the story, the father’s response to the younger son’s request is shocking. In granting the son his inheritance, the father is essentially allowing himself to be treated as if he were dead. This is a picture of the cost that God was willing to pay to give us the freedom to choose our own way, even if it meant being rejected and abandoned by us.

When the younger son returns home, the father’s response is even more remarkable. He sees his son while he is still a long way off, suggesting that he has been waiting and watching for his return. He is filled with compassion, a word that refers to a deep, gut-level response of love and mercy. He runs to his son, embracing and kissing him, in a display of affection that would have been considered undignified for a patriarch in that culture.

The father’s actions towards the younger son are a stunning picture of God’s grace and forgiveness. He welcomes his son back not as a servant but as a beloved child, clothing him with the best robe, a ring, and sandals. He celebrates his return with a feast, declaring that his son who was dead is now alive, who was lost is now found.

The father’s love is unconditional and unmerited. It is not based on the son’s worthiness or performance but on the father’s own character and compassion. In the same way, God’s love for us is not earned or deserved but is a free gift of His grace. No matter how far we wander or how much we fail, God is always ready to welcome us back with open arms and to restore us to our place as His beloved children.

The Older Son

Parables Bible Study #5 - The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

The older son in the parable represents the Pharisees and scribes who were critical of Jesus’ association with sinners. Like the older son, they were outwardly obedient and dutiful but inwardly resentful and self-righteous.

When the older son hears about his brother’s return and the celebration thrown in his honor, he becomes angry and refuses to join in. He complains to his father that he has been faithful and hardworking, yet he has never been celebrated in the way that his younger brother, who squandered his inheritance, is being celebrated now.

The older son’s attitude reveals a heart that is more concerned with fairness and merit than with mercy and grace. He sees his relationship with his father as a transaction, a matter of earning favor through good behavior. He resents the idea that someone who has behaved badly could be welcomed back and celebrated without having to earn it.

In many ways, the older son is just as lost as the younger son, but in a different way. His self-righteousness and lack of compassion blind him to his own need for grace and forgiveness. He is unable to enter into the joy of his brother’s return because he is too focused on his own sense of entitlement and pride.

The older son’s story is a warning to us about the dangers of spiritual pride and a transactional view of our relationship with God. It reminds us that God’s love and grace are not earned by our good works but are freely given to all who repent and believe. It challenges us to examine our own hearts and to ask ourselves if we are truly living in the joy and freedom of God’s grace, or if we are clinging to our own sense of righteousness and merit.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In what ways can you identify with each of the characters in the parable?
  2. How does the older son’s attitude towards his brother’s return reveal the dangers of spiritual pride and self-righteousness?

Themes and Lessons

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a rich and multi-layered story that explores a variety of themes and lessons. At its core, the parable is a powerful illustration of God’s love and grace towards sinners who repent and return to Him. It shows us that no matter how far we wander or how much we fail, God is always ready to welcome us back with open arms and to restore us to our place as His beloved children.

The parable also highlights the contrast between a life lived apart from God and a life lived in relationship with Him. The younger son’s journey into the far country is a

picture of the emptiness and futility of a life lived in pursuit of self-indulgence and independence from God. His eventual desperation and degradation underscore the consequences of sin and the inability of worldly pleasures to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart.

In contrast, the father’s embrace of the younger son is a picture of the joy and fulfillment that come from being in right relationship with God. The father’s celebration of his son’s return, complete with the best robe, a ring, and sandals, points to the restoration and blessing that God freely gives to those who turn to Him in repentance and faith.

Another key theme in the parable is the nature of true repentance. The younger son’s decision to return home is not based on a desire to earn his father’s favor or to make amends for his past behavior. Rather, it is a humble acknowledgement of his own unworthiness and a willingness to throw himself on his father’s mercy, even if it means being treated as a servant rather than a son.

This is a picture of the kind of repentance that God desires from us. It is not a matter of trying to make ourselves worthy or to earn God’s forgiveness through our own efforts. Rather, it is a humble turning away from our sin and a running into the arms of our loving Father, trusting in His mercy and grace to restore us.

The parable also challenges us to examine our own attitudes towards others, particularly those who have wandered away from God or who are considered “sinners” by society. The older son’s resentment towards his younger brother’s return and the father’s celebration of it is a warning against a spirit of self-righteousness and a lack of compassion for the lost.

As followers of Christ, we are called to reflect the heart of the Father towards those who are far from Him. This means being willing to extend grace and forgiveness to others, even when they don’t deserve it. It means rejoicing over every sinner who repents and returns to God, rather than resenting the mercy and grace that God extends to them.

Ultimately, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is an invitation to experience the incredible love and grace of our Heavenly Father. It is a reminder that no matter how far we wander or how much we fail, God is always waiting and watching for us to return to Him. It is a call to turn from our sin and self-reliance and to run into the open arms of our loving Father, trusting in His mercy and grace to restore us and to lead us into the fullness of life that He desires for us.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How does the Parable of the Prodigal Son challenge your understanding of God’s love and grace?
  2. What steps can you take to cultivate a heart of compassion and forgiveness towards others, particularly those who have wandered away from God?

Conclusion

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a powerful and moving story that speaks to the depths of the human experience. It reminds us of our own propensity to wander and to seek fulfillment apart from God, and it points us to the incredible love and grace of our Heavenly Father, who is always ready to welcome us back with open arms.

As we reflect on this parable, may we be inspired to turn from our own sin and selfreliance and to run into the embrace of our loving Father. May we experience the joy and freedom that come from being in right relationship with Him, and may we extend that same love and grace to others, particularly those who are lost and far from God.

May we also be challenged to examine our own attitudes and actions, particularly towards those who have wandered away from God or who are considered “sinners” by society. May we reflect the heart of the Father towards them, being willing to extend forgiveness and compassion, even when it is undeserved.

Ultimately, may the Parable of the Prodigal Son lead us into a deeper understanding and experience of God’s incredible love for us. May it remind us that no matter how far we wander or how much we fail, God is always waiting and watching for us to return to Him. May it give us the courage to turn from our sin and to trust in His mercy and grace to restore us and to lead us into the fullness of life that He desires for us.

As we go forth from this study, let us hold fast to the truth of God’s love and grace, and let us seek to live in the light of that truth each and every day. Let us be quick to repent when we wander, quick to forgive when others fail, and quick to extend the love and compassion of Christ to all those we encounter. And let us never forget the incredible gift of being called children of God, beloved and cherished by our Heavenly Father.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is one key takeaway or insight you have gained from studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son?
  2. How can you apply the truths of this parable to your own life and relationships this week?
  3. Take a moment to pray, thanking God for His incredible love and grace towards you, and asking Him to help you reflect that love and grace to others.

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