Bible Study

The Prodigal Son Story – 7 Things You Need To Know

In His lifetime Jesus told many parables, these were stories about familiar situations and everyday objects. This was a great way to get the attention of His listeners, while indirectly making a spiritual point. Those who were interested in what Jesus had to say, would reflect on the story and try to understand the deeper message. The prodigal son story is one of the most well-known of the parables and there may be times when we see ourselves, or those that we love, in this story in unexpected ways…

The Prodigal Son Story – What The Bible Says

The parable of the prodigal son is only found in the gospel of Luke (Bible Gateway Luke 15:11-32). It is recorded after a passage of teaching about the cost involved in being a disciple of Jesus. The Lord does not want us to naively expect only blessings, but to carefully consider what is expected of His followers.

After this stark warning the religious people, the Pharisees and teachers of the law, were muttering about Jesus’ willingness to spend time teaching ‘the sinners.’  In response, Jesus tells three stories, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.

Each one of these stories focuses on searching for something valuable that is missing. As much as Jesus wants us to consider the strength of our commitment to Him, He also wants us to know the character of God and His commitment to us.

The Parable of the Lost Son – Going His Own Way

Jesus tells the story of a family with two sons where the younger son wants his share of the inheritance while his father is still alive. To give a younger son his portion of the estate in this way would be highly unusual – but the father complies.

The motive of the younger son soon became clear, he took all that belonged to him and left home. He was now free to do whatever he wanted. And that is exactly what he did, he went travelling and spent his money on whatever pleased him. But with that approach, his money didn’t last long!

Soon, in that far country, there was a famine and the younger son started to struggle to make ends meet. He was far from home, in a strange land, a foreigner, and without any family support.

The young man started to look for work and he got a menial job feeding pigs, this was particularly abhorrent to an Israelite as they are regarded as unclean animals. Finally, he became so hungry that he even considered eating the pig food!

At this low point, the younger son came to his senses. He realized what he had so carelessly thrown away, and everything that he had turned his back on, the support and kindness of his family. Even his father’s servants were better off than this!

The Story of the Prodigal Son – The Return Journey

With this newfound clarity, the young man resolves to go back to his father and apologize for what he had done. He did not expect to be welcomed anymore as a son, but, knowing the character of his father, hoped to plead for the role of a servant.

“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  Luke 15:20

The prodigal son received a warm welcome from his father – undeserved and more than he ever expected. He apologized to his father for all that he had done and admitted that he was no longer worthy to be called his son.

But the father would have none of it, and he called his servants to bring the best robe, a ring, and sandals to put on his son. He told the servants to prepare a feast, it was time to celebrate the return of a lost son.

But there was one person who did not respond in the same way, who did not see the reason for the celebration. The older brother was angry at the attitude of his father. He became resentful of the joy that was being shown over the return of his rebellious, foolish, and disobedient, brother.

“’My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:31-32

A picture, from behind, of a woman with a bag on her shoulder walking along an empty, windy, road, with the text 'The Prodigal Son Story. Seven Things You Need To Know.'
The Prodigal Son Story

The Prodigal Son Summary

There are three main characters to consider in this story, the loving father, the rebellious son, and the begrudging brother. Jesus was revealing the Father’s heart of God in this story. Our Heavenly Father is seeking to draw men and women back to Himself. Abba, Father God, loves us unconditionally and is looking out for us, waiting for us to turn back to Him.

The younger son represents each one of us in those times when we have turned our back on God and gone our own way. But there is so much encouragement here that there is no one too far from God that He cannot redeem – if only they would turn and take a step back to Him, He is waiting with arms open wide. There is no condemnation, or recrimination, from the Father – just unfailing mercy, and lavish grace.

But there is a gentle reprimand here to the older brother, who questioned his father’s actions. He allowed comparison, and jealousy, to sour the celebration for himself. Comparison is self destructive, and damaging, don’t fall into that age-old trap!

Our Heavenly Father knows that those who have been forgiven much, love much in return! There may be times when we see ourselves in this story as the rebel son, or the grumbling older brother, or even find a lesson in love and forgiveness from the Father…

7 Things You Need to Know from The Prodigal Son Story

With all of the parables, Jesus invites us to participate in the story and make it our own. This story is loved by so many of us because of the message of love and forgiveness. We can all identify with the lost son, or daughter, reconciled to God with the gift of salvation.

But on our journey of faith, there may be times when we drift, when we do not surrender our will to our Heavenly Father. However briefly we choose to go our way, the prodigal son story brings hope. God is looking out for us, with a welcome, as soon as we turn back to Him.

This story also brings hope for those of us who are praying for ‘prodigals’. Did you know the definition of the word prodigal is ‘one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly’? But there is a secondary meaning to the phrase as ‘one who has returned after an absence.’

We refer to ‘the prodigals’ as those who were once walking with the Lord but have drifted and are now clearly going their way. And maybe what they are spending lavishly or foolishly is that most precious commodity, the one that can never be recovered, which is time. But we keep on praying for their return!

There is a process of change that applies to our spiritual life as well as for those who have lost their way. Sometimes change is prompted by the trials and difficulties that we encounter in life. But understanding the process may help us to navigate a path closer to the Lord and also to guide our prayers for the prodigals.

1 Change of Attitude  

Change only starts when we are willing to re-evaluate our situation and do something different. This rarely happens when things are going well because we do not see the need for change.

But when we encounter difficulties and hardship, we are forced to re-assess and, out of desperation, change our way of thinking. In the prodigal son story, his situation had become so bad that Jesus says, ‘he came to his senses’.

The moment came when the younger son realized he could no longer change the situation himself. He needed to ask for help from the very one he had earlier rejected. When we finally come to the end of ourselves, we make space for God’s grace.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

2 Change of Position

To make a difference a change of attitude must be followed by a change of position. If we change our way of thinking but do nothing about it, we will become full of regret and disappointment. If this is not dealt with it can fester into bitterness.

In the parable of the lost son at his lowest point, he finally comes to his senses, gets up, and makes a move. He realizes he cannot stay where he is any longer, and something must change. When we start to think differently, we must act differently.

“For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths.” Proverbs 5:21

You might also like to read: What To Do When You Arrive At Marah (How to move on from disappointment)

3 Change of Perception

A change of position always brings a change of perception, from a different position we will see things differently.

The prodigal son was returning home, unsure of his welcome but with the hope of being accepted as a servant. While he was still a long way off, he was seen by the father who was looking out for him. But more than that, the father set out to meet him and welcomed him with open arms.

The most critical change of perception that we will ever receive is the change in the way we view our Heavenly Father. God seeks and searches for those who are lost, not out of anger, but, with overwhelming mercy and grace.

God discerns the change in our way of thinking, He sees the change in our position, and as we turn and take a step toward Him,  He meets us with open arms and a loving embrace.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

4 Change of Heart

In the prodigal son story his change of heart is demonstrated, and confirmed, after receiving a welcome from his father. The son acknowledges to the father the mistakes he has made and all that he has lost.

In the parable of the lost son, the first step of repentance is when he ‘comes to his senses’. This is when he acknowledges, to himself, his mistakes and wrongdoing. But the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and express his change of heart only comes after he has been welcomed home by the father.

There is a point to ponder here as regards repentance and forgiveness that takes discernment. If we see a softening and a change in attitude in someone who has wronged us, are we willing to meet them with love and forgiveness before they apologize?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

You might also like to read : Should I Forgive And Forget?

5 Change of Status

The story of the prodigal son reveals the heart of God and the wonder of His love. Every person is valued and loved by God, and those who are disregarded by others, He does not overlook.

For those of us who are praying for prodigals, there is so much encouragement here – God loves them far more than we ever possibly could! This is our hope, that all who return to Father God receive a change of status, from death to life, and from lost to found.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1

6 Change of Occasion

The lost son was hoping to be accepted as a hired servant in his father’s household, with no rights or status but granted the bare necessities of life. Maybe he thought he could come in quietly, unobserved, and even that would be more than he deserved…

Instead, the prodigal son’s homecoming in humility and shame was being transformed into a celebration! His change of status brought great joy and he was given the best robe – one that very likely belonged to his father. He was given a ring, a sign of authority in the family, and sandals signifying high status – because slaves went barefoot.

The story of the lost son highlights the inclusiveness of God, and the joy in heaven when those who are wandering and lost find their way home!

“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

7 Change of Fortune

In a moment the prodigal son had a complete change of fortune, all that he had lost due to sin was restored! There was a complete reversal, and he went from famine and desperate need to celebrating with abundance.

This is our hope for our lives and all the prodigals. This is not wishful thinking, but a confident expectation based on all that Jesus has done for us. We are forgiven and reconciled to God, with an eternal inheritance kept in heaven for us by our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.”1 Peter 1:3-4

We have so much to celebrate! And be encouraged to keep on persevering in prayer for all the wanderers to return, and for those who are lost, to turn and begin their journey back to Father God. Amen.

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