Luke opens this passage by introducing the audience: “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him” (1). The Pharisees and scribes, who despised such “sinners,” criticized Jesus for welcoming such an audience. In response, the Lord spoke three parables that illustrate powerfully the heart of God towards repentant sinners.
Did You Know...?
1. “Give me the portion of goods that falls to me” (15:12): The father might divide the inheritance (double to the older son; see Dt 21:17 and note on Lk 12:13) but retain the income from it until his death. But to give a younger son his portion of the inheritance upon request was highly unusual.
2. Feed swine (15:15): The ultimate indignity for a Jew; not only was the work distasteful but pigs were “unclean” animals (Lev 11:7). [ref]
Compare the three parables. What are the common elements? What are the differences?Hide Answer
Common elements: Lost and found; great joy; contrast between the lost and those that were not lost. Differences: Total number (one hundred, ten, two); the first two parables involve active searching whereas the last parable does not; the last parable records the reaction of the one who was not lost; the Lord left the last parable open ended without giving a concluding remark.
Do you notice a progression in the three parables? What do you think is the purpose of such progression?Hide Answer
The difference is the total number, from one hundred to ten to two, shows an increase in the value of the lost one. The lost becomes dearer to the heart of the owner in each parable, with the parable of the father and son as the climactic illustration of God’s love for sinners.
How do the parables describe the extent of the joy at finding the lost?Hide Answer
It is remarkable that in each parable the owner cannot contain his joy but shares it with his friends, neighbors, or servants. This is a dramatic depiction of the great joy that God feels over the repentance of sinners.
What was the accusation against Jesus?
How did the three parables given by Jesus answer the accusation?Hide Answer
If God rejoices over the repentance of sinners, why should Jesus and the religious leaders distance themselves from repentant sinners?
Does the parable of the lost sheep suggest that God favors sinners over the righteous?Hide Answer
Nowhere in any of the parables do we see that the owner rejoiced over his loss. Rather, they rejoiced when the lost was found. Likewise, God’s greater joy is over the sinner’s repentance, not over their sinfulness. God detests sin but desires righteousness. That is why he rejoices when a sinner returns to the way of righteousness. As the parable of the lost son teaches us, this joy by no means suggests favoritism.
Have you ever shared the same joy as the shepherd in this parable? What was the occasion?
Have you ever been like the lost sheep? How did the Lord find you?
How does this parable change the way you view the lost ones?
Notice the depiction of the way the woman searched for the lost coin. What can we learn from this depiction?Hide Answer
The woman was persistent and thorough because the coin was of great value to her. Likewise, God also seeks sinners with the same diligence because He loves and cares for them.
Why did the younger son want to leave his father’s house?
Have you also wished to “journey to a far country”?
How did the younger son’s experience later turn out to be very different from what he had expected?Hide Answer
Have you also experienced the same wretchedness when you were far from God?
If you are now in the house of God, what makes you want to stay?
What was the prodigal son’s turning point? What does this teach us?Hide Answer
When he came to himself (17). Awareness of our sins and wretchedness and remembering God’s abounding love is the key to restoring our relationship with God.
Compare “give me” (12) and “make me” (19). What change has taken place in the prodigal son? What does this teach us about our attitude toward God?Hide Answer
He has become humble and realized his unworthiness. Instead of demanding from his father, he is now willing to give himself to his father as a servant.
How has the prodigal son sinned against heaven and before his father?
What do the father’s actions tell us about the father?Hide Answer
His heart was always on his lost son. The fact that he saw the son from a great distance suggests that he might have been waiting every day for the son’s return. The father’s compassion and joy was so great that he did not hesitate to run to his son (an action hardly befitting the image of a dignified father).
What do they teach about our Heavenly Father?
How is a sinner “dead” and “lost” (24,32)?
How has God also given us the best robe, a ring, sandals, and fatted calf?
Who does the older son represent?Hide Answer
Believers who have remained in God’s care and love.
How do these words show the older son’s mistake? a. “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time.” b. “you never gave me a young goat” c. “this son of yours”Hide Answer
a. He cited his obedience and service as if he deserved commendation, when these were his duties as a son.
b. He complained that he received nothing from the father when in fact he was entitled to enjoy all that the father had (31).
c. He refused to consider the prodigal son his brother.
Have you ever made the same mistake as the older son, seeing that new converts seem to get special favor?
Compare the father and the older son. What can we learn here about the difference between God’s heart and man’s heart?
How was the prodigal son “found” (32)? What does this teach us about what leads sinners to repentance?Hide Answer
Even though it seems as if the father never went out to look for the lost son, the story teaches us that it is God who brings sinners back to him. He does not force us to return to Him, but patiently moves us with His unfailing love until we are found.
What should be the focal point of this story? The prodigal son’s return? The older son’s anger? The compassion of the father? Explain your answer.Hide Answer
More than anything, the parable centers on the father’s compassion and forgiveness as an illustration of God’s immense love. Whether it was toward the prodigal son or the angry son, the father always exhibited patience and gentleness. It is God’s love that makes this story a living reality, and it is God’s love that motivates us to extend this love to our brothers who are lost.