“The Caring Father” Luke 15:11-32’
This is a well-known parable. For all of its familiarity, few realize the direct context of the trilogy of stories. Luke records the scene in Luke 15:1-3. “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to [the Lord Jesus] to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So He spoke this parable to them.” The parable was an answer to the self-righteous, bitter, Pharisees and scribes. This is a story that mentions the three personalities of the triune God and shows their part in salvation. All three stories tell of the great joy in heaven when someone is saved.
Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. They are not allegories. We cannot make one to one comparisons. All parables break down. While we must be careful not to put more in a parable than is there, parables are a part of the Bible and thus are profitable for teaching. The last of the three stories tells us about God the Father. It shows us three things about Him. First, the Father is merciful (v. 11-19). Second, we learn the Father is gracious (v. 20-24). Finally, the story shows us that the Father is patient (v. 25-32).
First, we learn the Father is merciful. The story opens with a man and his two sons. “Then 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 falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.” (Luke 15:11–12). In these opening words we learn the younger son is evil and the Father is full of mercy. When the younger son made this demand, he said explicitly that he wished his father was dead. To the modern ear this sounds almost normal for the teenage mouth to utter such things. But to those hearing this parable, such a request was shocking. We know in the ancient world that the just penalty for this kind of rebellion was death. Yet, the Father did not put His rebellious son to death. Instead, He gave him his inheritance ahead of time.
When the father should have summarily destroyed his son, he did not. Instead, the father showed him mercy. He did not mete out the judgment deserved. There is a clear parallel here to what we humans did to our God. In the Garden of Eden, God gave man and woman everything they needed or wanted. He provided a perfect environment. Still, Adam and Eve chose to sin. When God should have destroyed us, He chose rather to set in motion His plan to save us. God has never treated us wrongly or badly. We, on the other hand, have never treated Him right.
As the first two stories are about a seeking Savior and the searching Holy Spirit, this is about a pursuing God the Father. When the story continues it describes how this young man hit the bottom before he came to himself. While we cannot see God overtly at work in this young man’s life, He was at work providentially. Behind the scenes, God works His mercy in the situations in our lives. “And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living . . . He began to be in want.” “Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15:13, 15-16). Another gasp had to escape from the audience at the mention of feeding swine. This was the lowest of the low for a Jewish boy to feed pigs. Sometimes God loves us by letting us fall on our faces. In mercy, He did that for this young man.
When the young man comes to himself, he remembers his Father’s character and goes back to him knowing now his father owes him nothing. “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” (Luke 15:18–19). The son said in his speech, “I am owed nothing, but I have nowhere else to turn.” The son will go back and risk everything, even his very life, on the father’s mercy.
Not only is the father merciful, he is gracious. We saw how the father did not act toward his wicked and rebellious son in justice but acted in mercy. In the second part of this story, the Lord Jesus wanted us to see the father is very gracious. Not only did the father not punish the son, he gave him what he did not deserve. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). When we come to the Lord by faith, we do not generally realize that the Father has worked behind the scenes in our heart, but we do get the feeling that He was looking for us to come home to Him. When the father should have greeted him with hate and anger, he gave him love and acceptance.
When the son did not deserve to be a servant, the father made him a son again. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here 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.” (Luke 15:21–24). The father did not wait for the whole speech. He immediately poured out his love and grace on the son.
So, instead of judgment and death, there is joy and life. God the Father is a God of grace to us. He gives us what we do not deserve. He is gracious, not because we are worthy, but because He loves us.
Finally, we learn of God’s patience with the group that sat on the sidelines and hissed and booed at God’s grace. Many folks have trouble with the older brother here. How does he fit the story? If this story is about the prodigal son, it is hard to fit him in. However, if this story is about a seeking caring God the Father, we can find something more about the Father through the presence of the older bitter son. Do you think those bitter and angry scribes and Pharisees recognized themselves in this older brother?
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.” (Luke 15:25–28). This brother was no less evil than the younger brother. He had enjoyed the Father’s blessings for years, and still, was angry because God was gracious. God was patient with the older rebellious son also.
Are we ever angry at God’s grace to others? Do you remember the parable in Matthew 20? Jesus told the story of the landowner who went out and recruited laborers to work a twelve hour day in his field. He agreed with this first group for a denarius. This was not poor wages. He subsequently hires groups of laborers at three more intervals in the day. Finally, he hired the last group at the eleventh hour. When he paid his workers he gave all of them who had been hired at different times in the day the same wage. The first group who worked all day and got exactly what he had promised them, although they thought they deserved more. The Landowner said,“Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’” God can choose to be gracious to others and we must not ever be bitter and angry because He exercises grace.
God has a plan of redemption for all of us and He will carry it through. We must rejoice in God’s graciousness and share His plan of redemption with others around us because that would please our heavenly Father. Are we thankful that the Heavenly Father is merciful, gracious, and patient with us?