Only Sinners Get Parties
It’s one of Jesus’ most known stories and it’s usually called “The Story Of The Prodigal Son.” When evangelists tell this story, prodigals are cut to the heart, turn from their wild living, and go home. Praise the Lord for the lost coming home, but is this the central thrust of this story?
What’s amazing is that it’s such a well- known story. It’s only told in the Gospel of Luke, but when I ask questions like, who did Jesus tell this story to, what’s the final climax of the story, or how did this story and stories like it get Jesus crucified, few can answer. One of Truth Encounter’s major purposes is to give you the tools to help you get answers to questions like this so that you can understand the Bible for yourself.
So, who is Jesus’ audience in this text? Go back to Luke 15:2 where we see the Pharisees and religious legal experts criticizing Jesus because He hangs out with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus responds to their hostile criticism with three stories: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and today’s story, the lost son.
As we listen to Jesus tell this third lost and found story, He is challenging us to decide whether we will join the forgiveness party and rejoice, or whether we will hang out with the judgmental religionists. Here’s my translation of Jesus’ story. Pay close attention, and see if you can figure out where the final climax comes and what it means.
“And He said, ‘A certain man had two sons. And the younger son said to his father, ‘Give to me my part of the estate that is coming to me,’ so the father divided the property between them. And after a few days, the younger son gathered together all his belongings and departed for a far country. There he squandered his resources living a wild, wasteful life. When he had spent everything, an intense famine hit that country and he began to come up short, so he went out and hired on with one of the citizens of that land. He found himself out there craving to fill himself with the husks that the pigs were eating.
No one gave him anything, not even what he was feeding the pigs. Then he came to his senses and began this internal conversation, ‘How many of my dad’s hired servants have plenty of bread? Now I’m starving. Here I’m going to die. I will get up, return to my father and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.’ Then he got up and went back to his father.
Now while he was still a good distance away, his father saw him, felt intense compassion, and ran to meet his son. With tears he fell upon his son’s neck and kissed him. Now the son said, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
The father said to the servants, ‘Right now, bring the finest garment and put it on him. Place a ring upon the finger of his hand and sandals on his feet. Bring a fattened calf, and sacrifice it. Then we’re going to eat and celebrate, for this is my son. He was dead, and now lives again. He was lost, destroyed, and now he’s found.’ And they all began to celebrate.
Now his son, the older one, was out in the field. As he was coming in, getting close to the house, he heard a band and dancing. He called one of the young servant boys to find out what was going on. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has come home and your father has sacrificed the fattened calf because he has received back his son safe and sound.’
The older brother became angry and did not want to enter, so his father went out and entreated him to come in. But the older brother answered his father, ‘Look! So many years I have served you. I’ve never disobeyed your command, yet for me you’ve never even given a young goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. But when your son, this one who has eaten up your life savings with prostitutes returns, for him you sacrifice the fattened calf.’
Then the father said to him, ‘Child, you are always with me, and all that is mine, is yours. But to celebrate and to rejoice—this is the right thing to do because this is your brother. He was dead and now he lives. He was lost but now he’s found.’” Luke 15:11-32
The final climax in a story comes when the most important good character comes face to face with the worst bad guy and they have it out. This moment usually comes at the end of the story because right after this confrontation the intensity falls away. In Jesus’ story the final, most important climax is not when the father sees his prodigal and runs to him. This is quickly resolved when the father falls weeping on his forgiven son’s shoulder and the resolution comes quickly with the party. But this is not the end of the story.
The big climax comes when the older brother comes in from the field, gets angry, and faces his father with bitter words of resentment and jealousy. The father replies with assurance and a strong argument that it’s right to party with forgiven prodigals. And Jesus doesn’t tell us what the older brother decided to do because at this point in Jesus’ ministry this question is not resolved.
Obviously, in this story God is the father, and Jesus makes it clear. His Father agrees that His Son should party with tax collectors and sinners because God wants to welcome sinners back home. The Pharisees and religious legal experts are represented by the older brother, and at this point in Jesus’ ministry they can still decide to come inside and join the forgiveness party with Jesus or stay angry, criticizing, and outside. We all get to decide which brother we will be in the Jesus Story of the prodigal.
LORD, turn many of our Sunday morning gatherings in our churches into celebrations welcoming prodigals back home. Destroy the jealousy and anger in me when You throw parties for others and I’m tempted to feel left out.
For more from Dave Wyrtzen please visit TruthEncounter.com!
You can also listen to weekly messages from Dave on OnePlace.com.