The truth of the matter is, for a son to say that would be tantamount to saying, Dad, I wish you were dead. I want my freedom. I want my fulfillment.
I want my inheritance now, which is equal to saying, I wish you were dead. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur. I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Today John begins a series on perhaps the most famous story in the Bible. It's the parable of the prodigal son, and John is going to show you why this is not just a story about one son. It's really the tale of two sons. You know, John, in the first three decades of my life as a Christian, I heard lots of sermons on the prodigal son, and probably our listeners have too, and usually those sermons boil down to lessons on how you should respond when your children rebel, or how to forgive wayward people in general. The first time I heard you preach this series, it was eye-opening and surprising. So talk a little bit about what you learned when you studied this passage.
Well, first of all, it's not about parenting, and it's not about a delinquent son who disobeys his parents. The whole thing is set up by how Luke 15 begins, and it begins with the leaders of Israel condemning Jesus for spending time with sinners. And Jesus responds to them by saying, let me tell you some stories. Story number one, a man had some sheep. One of the sheep was lost.
He went and found that sheep, and everybody in the village came and had a celebration over the sheep that was found. And then a second story, a woman had a coin, and maybe her life savings wrapped up in that coin. She lost the coin.
She scours the house. She finds the coin and calls all her neighbors, and they have a celebration because the lost coin is found. And then the third story is the story of the prodigal son. A father had a son. The son was lost. The son was found. And the whole village has a party celebrating the finding of the son. The parables are laid out in such a way that the final line is a scene in heaven where the angels surrounding the throne of God are just overwhelmed with joy. All heaven rejoices when a lost sinner is found. So there are three pictures, three analogies. A man finds a sheep.
A woman finds a coin. A father finds a son. It illustrates the joy of God over the recovery of a lost sinner. Heaven rejoices. All of heaven rejoices whenever a sinner comes to his father. And that's exactly what the Tale of Two Sons is about in Luke 15. I remember when I went through this, people were so moved that they actually broke into tears at certain points through the story.
Eye-opening messages, powerful messages. So stay with us from start to finish. I guarantee you this, God's amazing grace toward sinners will amaze you all the more. If you're not a Christian, let me challenge you. Listen very carefully to the Tale of Two Sons.
Yes, do, and I promise you'll enjoy it. Even if you've grown up hearing the parable of the prodigal son, you may be stunned by the details John is going to show you in this series. So here he is now to introduce the Tale of Two Sons. We turn now in the Word of God to Luke chapter 15. We begin in verse 11 with a very familiar parable of our Lord, probably His best known and most memorable parable called the parable of the prodigal son.
Now before we look at the story, a bit of background so that we know where we are. Christ is on His way to Jerusalem, the last months of His life. He is intending to offer Himself as God's perfect sacrifice for sin, die on the cross and then on the following Sunday rise again from the dead, having accomplished our redemption.
He has been ministering now for nearly three years and preaching the message of the Kingdom of God and repentance and calling men and women to enter into the Kingdom of God through repentance and faith in Him as the Messiah and the Lord God. He has developed some relentless enemies, the Pharisees and the scribes. They are basically the architects of the popular religion of Judaism at the time. They have their influence in the synagogues which are the local assemblies of Jewish people where they come together to be taught.
They are the primary influencing force. They are legalistic. They are corrupt inwardly. They are hypocritical. They are hostile to Jesus and yet they have the greatest amount of influence and so you have basically a populace that for the most part is either hostile or indifferent to Jesus under their influence and that ultimately comes down upon His head as they scream for His blood in Jerusalem and take away His life. The resentment of the Pharisees and the scribes is due to the fact that Jesus directly confronted them on their hypocrisy. He identified them as self-righteous and not truly righteous. He identified them as not truly understanding the Scripture or the will of God. He told them they did not know God, they did not know the true way of salvation. He told them they were excluded from the Kingdom of God because they were inwardly corrupt and they were headed to divine judgment.
This is not what they wanted to hear. And though He said it with compassion and mercy and grace, and though He said it repeatedly in all kinds of settings, no matter how He said it, they hated it. And so, wanting to attack Jesus back, they came up with the worst possible thing they could say about Him and that is that He did what He did by the power of Satan. The very opposite of representing God, they said He represents the devil himself and what He says is demonic and hellish. That was their conviction and so that is the lie that they spread throughout the land.
Any way and every way they could find to affirm that lie, they did so. And one way that they found apparently to be very effective was to say to the people, look with whom Jesus associates. He doesn't associate with God's people, He associates with the devil's people.
He associates with tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, the general category called sinners. And whenever they could identify Jesus as associating with sinners, they loved to do that as a way to discredit Him to affirm that He was comfortable with Satan's people and uncomfortable with the people of God whom they believed themselves to be. And so that is the occasion that precipitates the stories that Jesus tells in Luke 15. In verse 1 it says, all the tax gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. They came because, as you noted at the end of chapter 14, the last statement, He who has ears to hear, let him hear, they were willing to listen. And so they came. And both the Pharisees and the scribes who were the theological experts in the Pharisees Movement began to grumble saying, this man receives sinners and eats with them.
And, of course, eating with someone was tacit affirmation and approval. And so they were outraged. They would not associate with these kinds of people.
They would not eat with these people by any means. They kept themselves aloof from all of these kinds of people in some self-designed effort to protect their own imagined purity. Despite the miracles of Jesus which were inescapable, they never did try to deny them, despite His ample evidence of His deity, despite the power and the clarity and the transforming nature of His words, they kept coming back to the fact that He was satanic and it was evident on this occasion because He was associating with the people who belonged to the devil.
He not only violated the traditions of Judaism, violated the customs of the Pharisees and the scribes, He not only had no regard for their treatment of the Sabbath or their other rules, but especially He associated Himself with the unrighteous outcasts. And so they brought this up again here as they had in chapter 5 verses 29 to 32, same complaint. Now this sets off an answer from our Lord.
And the answer is a pretty simple answer. You don't get it, do you? The reason I associate with these sinners is because I have come to seek and to save that which is lost, as He says explicitly in Luke 19, 10. I do this because it is the Father's joy, it is God's joy to save lost sinners.
And He goes on to tell a story about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep and he lost one and went and found it, brought the sheep back and says, what is the point of the story? Verse 7, I tell you in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. And that is a sarcastic rebuke of the Pharisees themselves who thought they were righteous and needed no repentance. Heaven has no joy in you. Heaven's joy is in the recovery of a lost sinner who repents.
And then He told a second story about a woman who had ten silver coins and lost one and went on a search until it was found. And again in verse 10, in the same way I tell you there's joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. What He's saying to them is, you are so far from God, you don't even understand what makes God have joy. You don't understand what causes God to be content, satisfied and joyful. It is the recovery of sinners.
You are so far from knowing God. And that, of course, then leads to the third story which is the main parable. We have seen the recovery of a lost sheep and a lost coin and here is the recovery of a lost son. But this story is intended to demonstrate the same thing, the joy of God over the recovery of a lost sinner.
But this story goes even beyond that. And it identifies the nature of repentance. The first two stories about the sheep and the coin emphasize God as the seeker, the one who finds and the one who rejoices. But the third story looks not so much at the divine side, but at the human side...sin, repentance, recovery and rejection. This is a dramatic story.
This is a moving story. All of it is deeply interesting and impactful on the thinking of anyone who is gripped by divine truth. Now the story doesn't contain everything that needs to be said about salvation. It's not the whole of salvation theology. But it does lead us to the cross which is yet to happen because it's a story of reconciliation and there is no reconciliation apart from the death of Christ who having paid the penalty in full for the sinner, provides reconciliation. But the cross is not in the story, it's yet to come. And so this is not a full theology of salvation, but it deals with some of the essential elements of sin and recovery and rejoicing and rejection. Now it falls into three characters, the younger son, the father and the older son. And really should be divided that way, I would like to be able to divide it so conveniently into three parts.
This has been a goal of my life ever since I started preaching, a goal that I never achieve. So we will take it as it comes. But we begin with the younger son...the younger son. And as we open the story of the younger son, I want to take you to two things to think about. First, a shameless request and then a shameless rebellion. Verse 11, and he said, A certain man had two sons and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.
We'll stop there for a moment. The first son is not the only character. In verse 11 you have the man and both sons. That's why I call it a tale of two sons.
It's not really the tale of one son, it's the tale of two sons and the climax of the whole story indicates that it is the other son, the one we don't think about, that is really the main objective in the story. But we call this younger son the prodigal son, and I suppose that you if I asked you what prodigal meant would probably want to look for a dictionary to find out exactly what prodigal means, so I can fill in a little for you. It's a word, it's an old English word, we don't use it much, it basically meant spendthrift. And you know what that word means, somebody who is wasteful, a person who is senselessly extravagantly self-indulgent. And that's a great word for this first son, that's why it's lasted for so long.
But it's not a word that's in the story anywhere, it's just a word that in the original English versions fit well. The young man is the classic illustration of wasting your life, of extravagant self-indulgence and that is why he is called the prodigal son. But let's look at the story and see that it's really a story about two sons and a loving father. Jesus said a certain man had two sons and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.
When Jesus said that, you could imagine that the Pharisees and the scribes who were His only audience went, ugh! This is absolutely an outrageous statement. Now he's likely not married because he wants to go and sow his wild oats, probably in his teens. He is utterly disrespectful toward his father. He lacks any love for his father whatsoever. There is not an ounce of gratitude in his heart for the legacy that generations of his family have provided for his father and one day for him.
In fact, the truth of the matter is, for a son to say that in the sensibilities of the ancient Middle East in village life would be tantamount to saying, Dad, I wish you were dead. You are in the way of my plans, you are a barrier. I want my freedom, I want my fulfillment and I want out of this family now. I've got other plans, they don't involve you, they don't involve this family, they don't involve this estate, they don't involve this village, I want nothing to do with any of you. I want my inheritance now which is equal to saying I wish you were dead. In a culture where honor was so important, in a culture based upon a Ten Commandment, honor your father and your mother, this had been embellished and improved on to the point where honoring your father was like at the top of the list of social life. And any son who made such a request, such a breathtaking request, such an outrageous request from a healthy father, probably relatively young, is understood by everyone to be wishing his father was dead. You see, the way it worked, you never got your inheritance until your father died. But to do this, to ask for it at this point, essentially was not only to affirm that your father was dead, but was also to on your own part commit suicide because anybody would expect that that kind of request of a father would be responded to with a slap across the face. That was a typical Jewish gesture to show rebuke for such disdain on the part of a young son who had benefited from everything the family had and probably all the accumulated riches of the generations before and that's the way he treats his father. He would be slapped across the face with no small force and then very likely he would be shamed publicly and perhaps dispossessed of everything he had and perhaps even considered as dead and dismissed from the family.
That's how serious the breach was. And that is why in verse 24 when he comes back, the father says, this son of mine was dead. And he says it again in verse 32 to the older brother, this brother of yours was dead. It was even customary in that time and place to hold an official ceremony, a funeral, if you will, for such insolence and you were done and you were out of the family and you were dead. And the only way back in was some restitution, some way to earn your place back in the graces of the family for the dishonor you had brought.
The system was very clear to everybody. The father was at the head of the honor list. Then came the older brother.
Then came the younger. This is shameless at its highest level. The lowest in the family, the lowest in the line of honor expressing aggravation and irritation and hatred about his father that he's even still alive and standing in the way of him getting what he wants is the highest degree of shame imaginable. There was no way that Jesus could portray greater shame upon a person than that act. In the social structure of Israel, that was the supreme act of shame. And his request, Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.
Give it to me. He uses the word estate. This is a word in the Greek, teousios, used only here, nowhere else in the New Testament. And it means the goods, the property, the portion. He's asking for the material stuff, land, animals, buildings, whatever of the family possessions he is entitled to get. And in a two-brother family, according to Deuteronomy 21, 17, the estate would be divided unequally. The older son gets double what the younger son gets.
That means two-thirds go to the older son, one-third goes to the younger son. So whatever was one-third of everything that this family had is what he wants. And they must have had a lot. They had servants, as we find out later in the story. They hired musicians and dancers for the party. They had hired men whom they employed outside their normal family servants.
They had animals, including a fattened calf. And they must have had a substantial enough estate that he thought if he could get his third, he could fund his rebellion pretty well. But all he wanted was the teousios, and that's a very important word, because the normal word for inheritance is kleronamion, that's the normal word.
But listen carefully. When you use that word and you talk about inheritance, you're talking about everything that comes with the material. You're talking about the management of the estate. You're talking about leadership. You're talking about responsibility to provide the resources for the family. When you receive your inheritance from your father, you literally are receiving the responsibility to manage all the assets of the estate on behalf of the family present to add to that and therefore build the estate for the family in the future. So with the word inheritance comes responsibility, accountability for the future. He didn't want any of that, so he didn't use that word.
Jesus put this word teousios in his mouth, I just want My stuff. I don't want leadership. I don't want responsibility. I don't want accountability. I don't want anything for the future. I'm not taking on any responsibility for this family now or ever again. I don't want to care for anyone.
I just want My stuff. No leadership, no responsibility, no accountability, no part of the family, no part of the father's future. All of this indicates that he is living under the father's authority very reluctantly. He is miserable. He wants freedom, independence. He wants distance.
He wants to go as far away from all restraint, all accountability that he can. He doesn't want to obey his father. He doesn't want to be directed by his father. He doesn't want to have to answer to his father.
He wants nothing to do with anybody who knows him. He wants out, but he wants out with all that he can get to finance his leaving. Now a father could give gifts to his children, any father in the Jewish culture at that time could give gifts to the children as he wished. He could assign also their portions of the estate. At some point he could say, now this is the two-thirds that you're going to get as the older son.
This is the one-third that you're going to get as the younger son. And even if he did that assignment, they couldn't ever take possession until he died because in that culture of honor, the father was in charge until he died. He never relinquished that to his children. So though he would say, this will be yours, he wouldn't say, this is yours, take it over now. He would always be the one responsible. And if he did apportion to them and say, now I want you to start to learn to manage your area and to manage this area, according to the custom, he would have access to everything that was earned as they managed their estates.
So he kept a strong and firm hand. But the son is not asking for that. He's not asking to know now what he's going to get in the future. He's asking to have now what he should wait for after his father dies.
The village would probably get word of this, circulate around a village typically. They would expect the father to be angry, ashamed, dishonored. They would expect him to be furious with his son. They would expect him to slap the boy across the face, to rebuke him, to shame him, to punish him, to dismiss him from the family and perhaps even to hold a funeral.
But this is the first surprise in the story. Go back to verse 12, and he divided his wealth between them. He divided his wealth. You know what the word wealth is in the Greek?
Bios, biology. This is their life. This is what the family's life for generations has produced. This is his living.
This is his source of livelihood. So he is saying, he divided it. Well, some of the Pharisees and Sadducees, or scribes probably thought, well, yeah, he's just telling them that, you know, this is what you're going to get, this is going to be yours, this is going to be yours and you can begin to take responsibility for what's going to be yours now and I'll be there to oversee it.
And maybe that's what he meant. He was just divvying it up, according to Deuteronomy 21, 17, one-third, two-thirds. And yet there would be a surprise at this point. This would be pretty shocking because of the way in which this was requested. If the father had done it of his own will because he had such respect for his sons and trust in his sons and love for his sons, then it would be understood. But to this kind of son, with this kind of request, for a father to do this was very shocking stuff and this would cause another gasp from the Pharisees. Rather than strike him across the face for his insolence, the father grants him what he wants. He extends to him this freedom because he is willing to endure the agony of rejected love. And this is the agony that's the most painful of any personal agony, the agony of rejected love.
The greater the love, the greater the pain when that love is rejected. This is God. This is God giving the sinner His freedom. There's no law in the customs of Israel that would forbid a father to do this.
He's not doing this because he thinks this is best. He's giving the sinner His freedom. And the sinner's not really breaking a law, but he is demonstrating the absence of a relationship, and that's the point. You're listening to Grace to You with John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, as John takes a compelling look at Jesus' most famous parable. John is showing you why it's not just the story of the prodigal son, it's the tale of two sons. And friend, to go even deeper into this amazing narrative, I encourage you to pick up John's book called The Prodigal Son.
It's a stunning look at the kindness God bestows on all who repent. To get a copy of The Prodigal Son, contact us today. Call us toll free at 800-55-GRACE or visit our website, gty.org.
The Prodigal Son book costs $12.50 and shipping is free. Order a copy for yourself and perhaps an extra one for someone you love when you call us at 800-55-GRACE or shop online at gty.org. That's our website, gty.org, and when you visit there, make sure to download the Study Bible app. It's a free app that gives you the full text of Scripture in the English Standard, King James, and New American Standard versions, along with instant access to thousands of online resources. And with an affordable in-app purchase, you can also download the notes from the MacArthur Study Bible. That's 25,000 detailed explanations that will help you understand what you're reading and help you apply it to your life. The app, again it's called The Study Bible, is free to download from gty.org.
Once more, that's gty.org. And now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Keep in mind, Grace to You Television airs this Sunday and be here all next week when John continues his look at the parable of The Prodigal Son and the inexhaustible depths of God's forgiveness. It all starts with a half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Monday's Grace to You.
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