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Luke 15 - What is God like? (G.G.)

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This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.

By Graham Llewellyn Grove, April 2007, Original copy


Humans have funny views about God

Sometimes we think of a far away God; looking down at us; waiting to punish us in some way; to perhaps drop a piano down on top of us

Even young children think about God and imagine what he’s like

In a school in America, some young children were asked to write messages or prayers to God

  • "Dear God, I went to a wedding and they kissed right in church! Is that okay?"
  • "Dear God, please put another holiday between Easter and Christmas. There is nothing good in there now!"
  • "We read Thomas Edison made light. But in Sunday School they said you did it. So I bet he stoled your idea"

One of the most insightful messages from these children leads into today’s theme

  • "Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family, and I can never do it!"

The parable of The Prodigal Son is also known as The Lost Son so it’s easy to focus on the son

But I wonder, is the focus on the son, or is it on the father?

I think the focus is ultimately on the father, and in particular, two of his characteristics

  • His unconditional love
  • And his complete forgiveness


When Jesus told parables, he often left you feeling a little uncomfortable

Certainly, the story of the Prodigal Son has this effect

I reckon there is a modern day story of a lost son whose father shows incredible unconditional love

This story perhaps leaves us with a similar unease

It’s about a boy who grew up in Adelaide

His father loved him

Yet when he got older he rejected his culture and people and converted to another religion and left his home

Yet his father remembered him and loved him

Overseas he lived unwisely, and became involved in a war against his country of birth

He became a prisoner of war and was thrown into small cell for 5 years

Still his father remembered him and loved him

In fact, his father fought for him, never giving up hope that he could be reunited with his son

Imagine the joy there is in that family now that they know their lost son is coming home

This is a story of love and forgiveness and in some ways it parallels the story of the Prodigal Son;

A story which perhaps would be better named, "The Loving Father"


The scene is set with Jesus having a meal with “sinners” and tax-collectors

These people have dubious reputations

These were people who clearly weren’t perfect

They were materialistic and pleasure-seeking

The Pharisees, who fasted, ate the right food, tithed the right amount, ceremonially cleansed themselves the right way, found this to be contemptable

They would never spend time with sinners or eat with tax-collectors

How could Jesus spend time with “sinners”?

It’s interesting to note that the “sinners” gathered around Jesus to hear him; to listen to him

Yet it seems most of the Pharisees never really listened to Jesus, and so no doubt, many Pharisees became angry rather than repentant at hearing the story Jesus then tells about a lost son, his angry brother and his loving father

The focus of this story is how loving and forgiving the father is; the father, of course, symbolizes God, our heavenly father


The story begins with the younger of two sons demanding his share of his father’s property

This seems quite extraordinary

I wonder what my dad would say if I went up to him and said: “Dad, sell the house and give my share of the inheritance; I want to have some money”

Inheritances are given out when a father dies; not while he’s still alive

So in a sense the son is saying, “I don’t care that you are alive, father; I consider that you are dead, so, I want my inheritance now”

And incredibly, the father obliges, reminding us that God will let us go our own way;

We are free to choose to be his child or to not be


The son travels far away

He lives a wild life, presumably with women and wine, seeking pleasure after pleasure, with no thought for right and honourable living

And of course his money runs out, and then we can see to what depths he falls

He gets a job working with pigs

Pigs are unclean animals to Jews, and so to work with pigs is a terrible thing to do

In Deuteronomy God said to the Israelites:

  • "Pigs are unclean. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses."

The man cannot sink any lower

He is in utter poverty

He’s lost his money, his honour, his friends, and worst of all, by his own doing, he’s lost his father, or so he thinks


However, he comes to his senses, seeing the state of affairs that his actions have created, and he repents

He turns around and heads back home realizing that he is completely unworthy and totally reliant on his father’s forgiveness

From a distance, his father sees him

Perhaps his father had been watching every day to see if his son would return

And as soon as his father sees him, he jumps up and runs to his son

In ancient Middle Eastern societies, a father would never run to his son

It would be beneath a father to run

It was undignified to run

Yet, the father isn’t interested in his dignity; only in his excitement and joy that his son is returning

He embraces his son;

The past is forgotten; it doesn’t matter;

It is one of the most beautiful images in the Bible: "The son was still a long way from home when his father saw him; his heart was filled with compassion, and he ran, threw his arms around his son, and kissed him"

The Father loves his son, and puts a robe on him, something which is reserved for an honoured guest

He puts sandals on his son’s feet – servants didn’t wear sandals; sandals were reserved for family members

And he organizes a major party

The father’s response to his returning son is quite incredible


When the older son hears of this, he is angry

He can’t accept that the father could treat the younger son so well

He refuses to go in and join the celebration

This seems like a normal human reaction doesn’t it?

To my discredit, I’d probably have reacted like the older son

But the reaction is wrong

Yet the father doesn’t forget about the older son

He goes out to the older son – again, something undignified for a father in the ancient world – the older son should have come at his father’s calling

But, again, the father isn’t interested in his own dignity;

He loves his older son too, and pleads with him, “My child, your brother is back – please be happy with me and celebrate”


And, the story then is left hanging

Did the older son join the celebration or not?

Jesus didn’t finish this story;

It was up to Pharisees, who were acting like the older brother, to finish it


This parable shows us God’s character

God loves us, his children

1 John 4:8 tells us:

  • "God is love"

1 Corinthians describes love so beautifully:

  • Love is patient, love is kind
  • Love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs
  • Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres

The father in the parable loved like that

His love was patient; he waited for his son

His love didn’t keep record of the son’s wrongs

His love hoped and trusted

The story reminds us of God’s ultimate demonstration of his love – Jesus’ death for our sins

In 1 John we are reminded

  • This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us

We have a God who forgives us

Some of Jesus’ last words were

  • Father, forgive them


The challenge of this story though is not just to know more about God’s character, but it is to become transformed to have the same character

When you think about it, there is a relationship between us and each character of the story

The Lost Son reminds us of ourselves

  • "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"
  • I was the lost son
  • You were the lost son
  • No Christian can deny that he or she was a lost child, whom God has run to and embraced

The Angry Brother reminds us of who we should not be

  • The parable is warning us not to be like the angry and unforgiving brother
  • This is a theme that is found throughout the Bible
  • Remember in the story of Jonah, God spares the repentant city, much to Jonah’s displeasure
  • But God replies: "Have you any right to be angry? Should I not be concerned about the city?"
  • It seems to be a common human trait to be upset when we see someone that we consider "bad" or unworthy being welcomed and blessed by God
  • But why should we be angry at the forgiveness of a repentant sinner?
  • This angry brother reminds us not to be like one of those angry Pharisees

The Loving Father reminds us of who we are striving to be like

  • Elsewhere in the gospels, Peter asked Jesus: "How often should I forgive my brother?"
  • Jesus answered: "Seventy times seven"
  • The implication is clear – we aren’t suppose to keep a tally, we are called to forgive, and to forgive, and to forgive again; to never withhold forgiveness
  • This isn’t easy
  • But it is what we are called to do
  • Everywhere in the gospels, we are called to love
  • The great commandments are
    • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul
  • And
    • Love your neighbour as yourself
  • Jesus called us to even love our enemies
  • This is how God acts towards us
  • And so this is also what we should be like

So next time you hear mention of the Prodigal Son, think also of the loving Father and remember the words

  • The son was still a long way from home when his father saw him; the Father’s heart was filled with compassion, and he ran, threw his arms around his son, and kissed him

And remember to strive to love in the same way, going out to meet the person who needs your love, being filled with compassion for that person and embrace him


Let’s pray

  • Father, thank you for the love you’ve shown us, your prodigal children
  • Teach us to love and forgive like you do, shining your light to those around us
  • Prevent us from being negative about the grace and love you have shown to other people;
  • But teach us to rejoice like you do
  • In the name of your son Jesus
  • Amen




Return to Christianity -> Bible -> New Testament -> Gospel of Luke -> Luke 15 -> The Prodigal Son

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