When I was younger, I remember briefly hearing about the “Prodigal Son.” The story never resonated with me, and I incorrectly thought the term “prodigal” was synonymous with the favorite, perfect, can-do-no-wrong child. It wasn’t until I put my faith in Jesus Christ and studied the Parable of the Prodigal Son (a.k.a. “Lost Son” in some versions) that I came to the correct understanding.
I was once a Prodigal, though if you ask my parents they may say otherwise. My outward actions seemed to be “normal” teenage rebellion, and at the root of it all, I was a sweet, kind, “good” girl. I had the “foundation” of Christian morals from private school and a church-going family. But my heart’s darkness proved otherwise. My pull to sin was addicting, and my heart was set on independence from needing God. I had heard the Gospel, but I willingly chose to be my own Savior. I was lost.
The Parable of the Lost Son: Luke 15
If the Parable of the Lost Son is new to you, allow me to summarize it. It tells the story of a father with two sons; the younger asked his father for his share of the estate. Commentary from my study Bible highlights that this act was worthy of stoning in this culture, for sons couldn’t claim their inheritances before their fathers’ death. It was considered an act of rebellion. The context of this passage illustrates how truly offensive this act was.
The son moved away and squandered his wealth (in some disreputable ways, like with prostitutes) right before a severe famine swept the country. He was so impoverished and desperate for food that he was longing for the pigs’ food. In remembering his father back home, he was instantly enraged thinking about the spare food they had while he had nothing. So he set out for home, intent on asking for forgiveness and the chance to work for his wages.
His father saw him returning home from afar, and his reaction was unexpected considering the son’s prior offenses; He ran to his son, threw his arms around him in compassion and kissed him. He called to his servants to bring the best robe, a ring, and sandals to adorn him. He also called for a fattened calf and a celebratory feast.
Meanwhile, the older son heard what was happening and was enraged. He emphasized to his father how dedicated and obedient he was all his life. He couldn’t understand how his brother was “rewarded” for his horrible actions and how he wasn’t for his good actions. How does the father respond? “‘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'” (v. 31).
And those are the last words of the parable. No celebrating the “good” son, no conclusion to the lost son’s life. It was irrelevant. The point Jesus was conveying was to show the forgiving, welcoming, gracious, merciful love of the Father. The Lord rejoices when we turn from our sinful ways and come to him — and He will always welcome us into his arms with celebration, mercy, forgiveness, and love — no matter how “good” or “bad” we are, no matter what we had done to offend Him prior. His top concern isn’t about our shameful past — His call is to come home, to sprint into His arms. He will celebrate with us!
The lost whom I love are relentlessly on my heart and the focus of my prayers. And in interacting with other Believers, I know this is one of the deepest burdens we carry. I pray you meditate on these verses from the Word today and allow them to guide your prayer life and your interactions with the lost.
What We Need to Remember About the Lost
- “[T]he Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
- They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:18)
- [T]hese men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals — these are the very things that destroy them. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted — twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude 1:10, 12-13)
- You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. (Isaiah 6:9-10)
- For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:20-22)
The Believer’s Care for the Unbeliever
- Be merciful to those who doubt. (Jude 1:22)
- Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. (Romans 14:1)
- Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord … (2 Timothy 1:8)
- In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)
- Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
- [I]f one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
- Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect … (1 Peter 3:15)
- How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? … As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)
- Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)
To Share with the Lost
- Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
- The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (1 Peter 3:9)
- For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age … (Titus 2:11-12)
- But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:4-5)
- He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. (Hebrews 4:2)
- Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:13)
- [F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
- “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)
- If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Father God, bring the prodigals in our lives home. Draw them near to you, Jesus. Open their eyes to your eternal glory. Show them their hearts, Lord. Show them their need for a Savior. Convict them of their darkness and fill them with the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ. Father, equip us as Believers to speak the truth of the Gospel into their lives, and to do it in a manner worthy of your glory. It’s for your Kingdom and for your honor that we ask for their salvation. I pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ our sovereign Lord and mighty Savior. Amen.