God's Outrageous Love
by Rich Deem


If you are a Christian, you have probably heard this story many times. If you are not a Christian, you have probably at least heard about this story, or references to the "prodigal son." In either case, take a couple minutes to read the story from the perspective of the times in which it was written. Even if you apply the story to people in modern society, it demonstrates the extraordinary love and forgiveness God has for us.

Lesson 1: rebel without a cause
The "He" in the first verse is Jesus, as He relates the parable of  a father and two sons. The father represent God, our Father. The two sons represent two reactions that people have to God and His love. The younger son is the prodigal, who represents the non-believer, while the older son represents the believer who doesn't really realize what God has done for Him. There is a lesson here for all of us. And He said, "A certain man had two sons; (Luke 15:11)
According to Jewish custom at the time, a father's wealth would not be divided until he had died. When the younger son came to his father and demanded his share of the estate, he was saying, in essence, "Father, you are dead to me. I don't want to ever see you again." The normal reaction at the time (and probably still true) would be to kick out the son without any part of the inheritance. However, God, in His love, allows His children the free will to make bad choices. and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' And he divided his wealth between them. (Luke 15:12)
The younger son showed total disregard for his father's lifestyle, so much so that he had to go outside of Israel to find the kind of sensuous, sinful living that he wanted to experience. He had soon spent everything and was confronted with a famine. "And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. (Luke 15:13)
"Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need. (Luke 15:14)
The younger son seized upon a common custom of the time that required hospitality from the wealthy to strangers. However, the wealthy man, realizing the younger son was a Jew, thought he could get rid of the young man by requiring him to feed pigs. Of course, pigs are unclean animals to Jews (both then and now), so that no respectful Jew would ever accept such a job. However, in his desperation, the younger son accepted the job. "And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. (Luke 15:15)
"And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. (Luke 15:16)
The younger son soon realized that even his father's hired men had more food than he. So he made a plan to go to his father, repent of what he had done, and sign on as a hired hand, since he was certain that he could not be accepted. back again as a son, because of all the evil things he had done. "But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! (Luke 15:17)
'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; (Luke 15:18)
I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."' (Luke 15:19)
So the younger son walked back to his father. However, when he was still far away, his father saw him. It wasn't by chance that this occurred. The father had been waiting and praying for his son every day since he had left, from a place where he might see him approaching. The events that followed are much more extraordinary than they might seem to us today, and require a brief explanation of the way things were at the time. In the first century A.D. estates were organized in a circle, so that several estates would have a common entrance. As such, all of the father's neighbors would have seen the younger son leave with a large portion of his father's wealth. This, in itself, would be humiliating. However, when the son returned, he would, likewise, pass by the other estates on his way to his father's estate. His father would experience scorn from his neighbors by running to meet his son. In addition, since men wore robes, he would have to lift his robe up and hold it up while he ran - something no respectful Jewish father would ever do.
The son began his plan of repenting of what he had done, and to request to sign on as a hired hand. But, he didn't even get to the second part of his plan. The father immediately accepted him back as his son, not even mentioning his parting insult of saying he was dead, and squandering of his estate.
The story illustrates that God is ecstatic whenever a sinner repents and turns to Him. Even if you once hated God, rejected His laws, and squandered all the blessings He had given you, He wants to hug you and accept you as a son or daughter, if you repent and turn to Him. He will forgive all your sins and shower you with His greatest blessings. If you have never had a relationship with God, go for the hugs! - accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
"And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
"And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' (Luke 15:21)
"But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; (Luke 15:22)
and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry; (Luke 15:23)
for this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' And they began to be merry. (Luke 15:24)
Lesson 2: the ungrateful "believer"
Okay Christian, it's your turn! You have been a believer for years, and have diligently attempted to follow the Lord's leading. In many instances, you have had to pass up opportunities for gain because they would compromise your Christian virtues. So here comes Mr. New Christian, who receives help from the church, a good job through a Christian brother, and is launched into a successful Christian ministry - while you struggle just to make ends meet. "Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. (Luke 15:25)
"And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be. (Luke 15:26)
"And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' (Luke 15:27)
You are bitter because this upstart has been an enemy of God for years. In the past, he had used his talents for sordid gain, lived a sinful lifestyle for years, while you have been a Christian since you can remember, and done none of those things. Why is God blessing him more abundantly than you (so you think)? The one who has lived both lives realizes much more acutely the difference between the two lifestyles. He realizes how much God has forgiven him for his rebellion, and knows how to minister to those who are still in rebellion to God. However, God has also forgiven all of your sins, as he has the sins of the prodigal son. In addition, you have received God's blessings for your entire life, in contrast to the person who has been a slave of sin for most of his life. Praise Him that He selected you for His kingdom while you were still young! "But he became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him. (Luke 15:28)
"But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends; (Luke 15:29)
but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.' (Luke 15:30)
"And he said to him, 'My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. (Luke 15:31)
'But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'" (Luke 15:32)

Okay, everybody. Here's the final exam. Which brother should receive the greatest reward in heaven?

  1. The younger brother, who left his father never wanting to see him again, but later returned.
  2. The older brother, who had stayed with his father the entire time.
  3. Neither. They should both receive the same reward.

And the answer is...

  1. The younger brother who left his father never wanting to see him again, but later returned.

Conclusion Top of page

God judges the heart and forgives all sin for those who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. However, the older son was bitter and judgmental. In fact, we can't be sure if he was even a true believer. Here is the basis for my answer:

And He [Jesus] also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)

Many non-Christians say that God is not fair. Someone who lives a "good" life, but rejects Jesus will be resigned to spend eternity in Hell, whereas someone who commits evil deeds, but accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior immediately before execution for murder will go to heaven.1 It is true that God is not fair.2 If God were fair, both sons would go to Hell. Even the "good" person has committed hundreds of sins against God over his lifetime. Those who call for fairness will get the fairness of God's justice. As for me, I prefer God's mercy over God's justice. It is through God's outrageous love and mercy toward those who humble themselves that we can become sons and daughters of God. Glory be to His Name!

References Top of page

  1. This doesn't mean that an evil person can get into heaven merely on the basis of some insincere "confession of faith."
    But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
  2. God Himself told Ezekiel:
    "But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord GOD, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18:21-23)
    "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not right.' Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?" (Ezekiel 18:25)

Last Modified October 1, 2008


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