This son with whom the Pharisees and scribes are so clearly identified, should have brought them face to face with themselves and their complete ignorance of the Father whom they said they served. The parable of the prodigal son is simple enough for a children's Sunday school lesson, but the truth it contains is far more profound than most adults probably realize. What was Jesus' purpose in teaching this parable? Whom does each character represent, and what should you take away from the Father's example of forgiveness? Those are just some of the questions to keep in mind as you follow along with John MacArthur here on Grace to You. John is going to help clear up any misconceptions that lots of people have about this most famous of Jesus' parables.
So join John MacArthur now as he continues his series, The Tale of Two Sons. Luke 15 is our text and back to the story that Jesus told, the parable, starting in verse 11 and running to the end of the chapter. Verses 11 to 32, probably the most familiar of Jesus' stories, the story of the prodigal son. Everybody knows a little bit about that story, but it really is not the story of the prodigal son, that's just one-third of it. It's about a prodigal son, a loving father and a very dutiful son.
One would be classically the bad son and the other would be the good son. And in the middle, touching both lives profoundly is this amazing figure of the loving father. Now it is important in understanding this story, we've been telling you this, to understand that these people were highly sensitive to the idea of honor and shame.
The Pharisees who believed themselves to be honorable, they were the leaders of Jewish religion, they believed they were the architects of what honor was and they also were the definers of what shame was. And they're saying, this whole thing is a big story of shame, a shameful request, a shameful response, a shameful rebellion, a shameful repentance. He's going to come back, ah, now the father's going to do something honorable. But the father gives the son a shameful reception and the shameful reception goes into a shameful reconciliation. In verse 22, the father not only takes him back as a son, but he gives him full privileges, bring the best robe, put a ring on his hand, sandals on his feet. Why does the father do that? Because it gives him joy. In verse 23, what the Pharisees would see is a shameful celebration.
Bring the fattened calf, kill it, let's eat and be merry. The father's joy, the heavenly father's joy is found in the sinner who comes home and repents and is forgiven. This is the joy of God. Verse 24 says it, this son of mine was dead, but he's come to life, he was lost, he's been found and they began to be merry. Now we come to verse 25 and there are three more shameful things here.
A shameful reaction, a shameful response and a shameful resolution. These involve the older son. The shameful reaction, verse 25, his older son was in the field. When he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
Some and one of the servants began inquiring what these things might be. 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. We meet the older brother. Now most people say, the older son, oh yeah, he was the Christian. Yeah, he was the believer who was at home doing what he should. That's not true.
No, that's not true at all. The older son, fascinating what Jesus does here. The older son, now you've got to understand, you're the Pharisees and the scribes, the legalists, you're sitting there listening to the story, everything everybody has done up to now is shameful, everything.
You're just waiting for somebody to do what you perceive as the right thing. Now here comes somebody who will do something that the Pharisees think is the honorable thing to do. This is our boy. This is our guy. Verse 25, by the way, meeting him, they meet themselves. This is their guy.
This is they. His older son was in the field. Now he's been out in the field working that day as much as landowners work, sitting under a shade tree making sure everybody else does what they need to, overseeing is what they do. In fact, noblemen in the Middle East didn't usually work.
That was somehow beneath their dignity at a certain point. But anyway, he was out in the field. What strikes me is that the father hasn't told him anything. The father certainly hasn't been looking for him. The father hasn't sent a messenger out to the field wherever he was to say, hey, hey, hey, your brother's back and we're going to have a party, come on in, greet your brother, embrace your brother, rejoice with me and help me get this party off the ground because, look, he was the number one primary party planner in the family. That was the job of the firstborn son. He had the responsibility to carry off all the events of the family, particularly those that were designed to be in honor of the family and the party was in honor of the family, not so much the son who came back, but the father who took him back and reconciled him.
And the whole village came together to give honor to such a loving, gracious, merciful, forgiving, reconciling father. But nobody bothered to tell him. The father doesn't go to him.
Why not? Wouldn't you listen to the story and say, why didn't somebody go get him and bring him back? The answer is he has no relationship to the father. The father knows he has no interest in his brother. He proved that at the beginning of the story when he didn't try to stop his brother from doing what was terrible. He had no interest in his father. He proved that by not intervening between his brother and his father to stop his brother from such a dishonorable act toward his father. In fact, he took his part of the inheritance gladly, never defending his father's honor.
He has no relationship to anybody in the family. Being out in the field is sort of a metaphor for where he was in terms of that family. The younger son was in a far country, this guy's in a far field, but the symbolism there is they're both way off from the father. They both come home, but to very different receptions.
So he's out in the field. The day ends, says he came and approached the house. And since he hadn't up to that point heard anything, it must have been an indication that it was a pretty big estate. This father has a great estate where someone can actually be far enough away you don't even know when a huge celebration involving hundreds of people is going on at your house, which is a way to indicate the greatness of the Kingdom of God.
But he comes back and he approaches the house and he says he heard music and dancing. Now again, everything up to this point has been shameful. It's all just against what all of them believe to be right. They're drawn into the story now. They've been making critical judgments all the way along.
Jesus was a master at this. He pulled His audience right into the story. They had to make ethical judgments all the way, simple story, understandable, ethical elements of the story. They sit in the position of making the ethical judgments. There they are, the experts on honor and shame, having been surprised and shocked and outraged by the conduct of everybody. They are about to find somebody they like who turns out to be them.
It's brilliant stuff...brilliant stuff. They understand nothing of divine grace. They resent divine grace. They don't understand the loving heart of God. They don't understand His mercy and tenderness, compassion, forgiveness and desire to reconcile with sinners.
They know nothing of that. That's why they don't understand why Jesus, God in human flesh, spends His time with sinners. This is the one guy that makes sense to them. They resent the unholy Son. They see Him as the opposite of their own self-righteous selves. And they think the Father is some kind of a fool for shaming Himself in the way He treats this sinful Son.
But finally they have somebody they can identify with, somebody who knows what honor is and He comes to approach the house, not having been included in anything at all. Father knows that. He knows He has no interest in Him. He knows He has no concern for His joy. He knows He doesn't care about His younger brother.
He knows that. He has no love for His Father, no desire to honor His Father, no respect for His Father, no interest in what pleases His Father. He has no compassion on His Father's grieving heart for the wayward Son.
He doesn't care at all about His brother. He's a Pharisee. He is a Pharisee. He pretends to stay in the Father's house, to be dutiful, to do what the Father says, to hang around, to get what He wants, to get approval and affirmation and wealth and land and community prestige. He wants to appear religious.
On the outside He upholds all the conventional modes of external honor. So He comes and He hears the music and the dancing, the symphonios and the chorus from which you get symphony and chorus. It's a party. There's music and in those days the men danced in a circle, men only, and there was clapping and singing. There would be instruments included in the music.
In fact, symphonios is originally a double pipe, but it also in some Arabic translations is used to refer to voices together. So voices, instruments, dancing, the whole thing is going on. It's a celebration. The fattened calf has been killed. What they did was not flay it, but they chopped it up into slabs of meat and they would cook it in chunks in the bread ovens and they would start the party in a very imprecise way. Life was not nearly as by the clock as it is today. The day was over, the work was over, the announcement would go out, come, killing the fattened calf, the sun is home and people would begin to come when they arrived and they would come and they would eat and the meat would continue to be cooked and it would be continually cooked for hours and the singing and the celebrating would go on into the night as the ebb and flow of this wonderful celebration took place.
Well it's already on its way. It's already full-blown when the older son arrives and again an indication that he probably came a long way indicating the greatness of the father's estate. He is stunned. He is shocked. He is surprised. He is confused.
But mostly he is suspicious because legalists are always suspicious, particularly of joyful people. And so he arrives. And when he approached the house, he heard music and dancing, it should say, and he rushed into his father and said, Father, what's all the joy about? But he doesn't do that. If he loved his father, he would have rushed into that house and said, What's going on?
What's going on? And his father would have said, Your brother's home. And he would have embraced his father and rejoiced with tears because he knew his father loved his brother. He knew he had ached in his heart as long as he was gone and he knew he had gone out to look for him day after day even though he didn't know he was back, no one had told him yet. Whatever made his father rejoice would make him rejoice if he loved his father. But he has no love for his father at all. He has a love for himself.
It's all about him and his property and his reputation and his prestige. So in verse 26 it says he summoned one of the servants. The servant actually is pydon here and it's from pis in the Greek which means a young boy. All the family servants would be inside. They would be taking care of all the guests. As I said, a hundred to two hundred guests wouldn't be unusual to eat a fattened calf. Not everybody ate a huge 16-ounce piece. In fact, they didn't eat a lot of meat except on special occasions and then not a lot. But on the outside there were young boys.
What this tells us a little bit about that Middle Eastern culture. The adults would all be inside. They would all be in the house, in the courtyard of the house having this great celebration at some point. And out on the fringes would be the kids that didn't get to come, but they were sort of the perimeter celebrators, you know, the fringe participants. The young boys would all hang out on the edges cause this is a huge event. And this would be the first group that he would meet as he comes in. And the first ones he runs into after he hears all this are these young boys.
So, verse 26, he began inquiring what these things might be. This is shocking. What in the world? I go to work as a day like any other day. I go out there to sit under the tree and make sure everybody does what they're supposed to. I come in and you've got the biggest celebration ever. What is going on?
And why wasn't I consulted and how is it that I don't know about this? And he says to him, verse 27, oh, your brother has come. Uh-oh, that should have filled his heart with joy. That should have been enough that after that was said, he rushed in because he knew how his brother's life had started out when he left. He must have been so anxious and excited to find out how that whole thing had ended up. He knew his father's heart had been broken when his brother left.
He knew how he regularly looked for him and longed for him. If he loved his father at that point, he would have immediately run in. But it really was his fear that his brother would come back. Your brother has come and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound. His worst fears, his brother came back, oh, and his father...what?...
received him. This outrageous conduct is more than this older brother can bear. Look at the phrase safe and sound. That's a funny thing, isn't it? Old English colloquialism that seems to last in our modern translation. It's actually hygieno in the Greek from which we get hygiene. And it basically means wholeness, well-being.
But in the Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that word is almost always connected to shalom which means what? Peace. That's really what he's saying. It's not that he's not physically hurt.
It's not limited to that. He's received him back in peace. This is not just good health. This is shalom. This is the peace of a full reconciliation between a father and a son. It isn't. His son came back and the father told him to sit at the edge of town for a week and think about what he had done until he gained a right to talk to his father and then he'd give him the things he needed to do to earn back his reconciliation.
Not that. The father received him and he received him in shalom. He's made peace.
Shalom forever. That's why there's a party. There wouldn't be a party if he had come back and had to work for the next twenty years. This is the worst possible scenario cause now the father is using his resources on this party. The son has already depleted the whole family treasury by taking his half, selling cheaply and leaving which meant that that whole thing couldn't grow so that the older son when the father did die would have more.
Now he's back depleting more of our family resources and the foolish father is using those resources on him. The son is the favorite guest at the banquet, but the banquet's really in honor of the father. The town is there to celebrate a father who's that merciful and gracious and kind and loving and reconciling. And see, that's the picture of heaven's joy.
And a legalist who thinks you earn your way to heaven doesn't understand that God's joy is found in justifying the ungodly, that God's joy is found in forgiving the sinner who is bankrupt and has nothing. The older son, that's why his worst fears have come true. His brother's back.
His father has embraced him. This is outrageous. And for the first time in the story, the Pharisees are saying, yep, that's exactly the right attitude. That's exactly what he should feel. He should be outraged. We are outraged.
This whole story is just one outrage after another. And so he can't be a part of a shameful event. His son has shamed himself. His father has continually shamed himself. He's gotten the whole community involved in this shameful celebration and he's not going to be a part of it. Verse 28, he became angry, was not willing to go in.
Of course he wouldn't go in. He hated the idea of grace. He resented this mercy and this instant reconciliation. And he says all of this, as we will see. It says in verse 28, and his father came out and began entreating him. Here we see God the initiator again. Here we see God in Christ the seeker, just as in the case of the younger son, the father came down out of his house and ran right down to the middle of town for all to see, bearing the scorn and the shame of the embarrassment of violating public, common, conventional behavior. And he did it to embrace the sinner and protect him from the shame. Here the father leaves the festival, goes out and does what you would never expect God to do, beg a sinner, beg a hypocrite.
But he is the one who seeks to save the lost. When the information, obviously, about the older son reaches the father, the word comes to him that his son is on the outside and he's not going to come in. He now knows he has his second rebel son and we're now going to find out how God feels about religious hypocrites. What they would have expected was that the father would be absolutely insulted by this. It is a blatant insult. It is an utter disregard for the father's honor, the father's joy, the brother's well-being. He shows himself as having no love for either of them. And the traditional Middle Eastern response would be to take the son and give him a public beating for such dishonor.
But nothing goes the way you think it's going to go in this story. It's just one breach of perceived honor after another, after another, after another, after another. But instead of the father ordering him to be beaten and locked in a room somewhere until he can be dealt with, the insulted, dishonored father comes out and he starts begging him.
He goes out in mercy and he reaches to the hypocrite the same way he reached to the rebel. I want you to notice the word entreating there. When it says that he began entreating him, parakaleo, that's a very, very common word. It's actually a word that comes in a noun form, the paraklete, meaning the Holy Spirit, the one who comes alongside.
Entreating is to come alongside to speak to, to come right alongside someone. That is, he comes right out and goes alongside his son. And he pleads with him and he calls him to come to the kingdom, to come to his house, to come to the celebration. This son with whom the Pharisees and scribes are so clearly identified should have brought them face to face with themselves and their complete ignorance of the father whom they said they served. Oh, they were in the house. They were around. They were the religious ones. They were the dutiful ones.
They were the moral ones. But they didn't know God. They didn't know the heart of God. They had no understanding of the joy of God. They had no interest in the recovery of lost sinners. They refused to honor God for saving grace, which has always been the way God saved. They see Jesus, in fact, as satanic. And as Jesus said in John 5 23, if they honored the Father, they would honor Me.
They refused to go in. But here is this wonderful compassionate grace of God reaching out to these angry hypocrites. And the response of the older son, verse 29, he answered and said to his father, look...let me stop there.
Everybody would take a breath there. I mean, even the prodigal came back and said, Father, Father, just as he had said Father at the beginning when he asked him for his estate, you don't address your father. Look, there's no title. There's no respect. And then he says, for so many years I have been serving you, douluo, slave language, doulos. For so many years I have been your slave. Now there's a legalist mentality.
That's a no fun posture, no joy. And what it indicates is that in the heart of this guy, he has seen this as a horrible grit your teeth, grind your way through these years and years of slugging out your slavery to this guy so that when he finally dies, you can get what you're after. He was no different than the younger son. He wanted what he wanted. He just had a different way to get it. Now he decided the safe ground was to hang around and wait till the father dies and then get it. It's all nothing but slavery to him. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur.
Thanks for being with us. Today John continued his look at the parable of the prodigal son, or as John calls it, the tale of two sons. Well, we are far removed from the culture that we're reading about in Luke 15, and that gap makes it a bit of a challenge to understand the passage. And there is a school of thought that the way to explain a passage like this is to drag the story into the modern or the postmodern world to contextualize it in terms that people today can understand. And John, your approach is really the opposite of that.
Yeah, the simple reality is this. In interpreting the Bible, you have to reconstruct the original context. It's wrong to take the Bible and just import it into the modern era. What you have to do is take the modern person and send them back to the biblical time. That's how you understand the Bible accurately, by going back into the Bible when it was written and seeing the reconstruction of the context.
And context is everything in determining an accurate interpretation of any passage, but particularly this story demands an understanding of the larger social context. And this gives me a good opportunity to mention to you that this story from Luke 15 is covered in vast detail in my commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Volume 3. There are four volumes on Luke, four commentary volumes on Luke. This is a reminder to me to just let you know that if you have not familiarized yourself with the MacArthur New Testament commentary series, this would be a great point to start. You can order Volume 3, From Grace to You. You can order the four volumes on Luke, or you can order the whole New Testament commentary series of 34 volumes if you really want to go for broke. But you will find that there will be within these commentaries the most detailed, lengthy, careful recreation of context and interpretation of everything in the New Testament that will enrich you far beyond probably what you have thought in the past if you've not dug down into commentaries.
If you're familiar with the MacArthur Study Bible, which I know many of you are, you have some study notes at the bottom of the page that help, but the commentaries will take you far and wide beyond those brief comments and let you explore the full richness of every New Testament text. So you can order those four volumes on Luke or just Volume 3, covering chapters 11 to 17. Free shipping on orders placed in the U.S., so order now.
Yes, do order today, friend. This commentary on Luke will help you understand and apply passages on giving, prayer, worry, and much more. To pick up John's commentary on Luke Volume 3 or any of the 33 volumes from the MacArthur New Testament commentary series, contact us today.
You can call our toll-free number, 800-55-GRACE, or go to our website, gty.org. Luke Volume 3 costs $19, and shipping is free. And in fact, each commentary in this series costs $19, and if you want to purchase the entire MacArthur New Testament commentary series all at once, 33 volumes, plus the helpful index, you'll enjoy a substantial discount on each volume. Again, to order the Luke Volume 3 commentary or the complete series, call us at our toll-free number, 800-55-GRACE, or visit us at the website, gty.org. And if you appreciate Bible teaching like you heard today, know that you can help people benefit the same way you have benefited. Your tax-deductible gifts translate into verse-by-verse teaching in your community and others like it throughout most of the English and Spanish-speaking world. To partner with us in connecting God's people with biblical truth, call 800-55-GRACE, or go to gty.org. Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace to You staff, I'm Phil Johnson. Make sure you're here tomorrow when John looks again at the story of the prodigal son and the profound implications this story has for you today. It's 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Friday's Grace to You.
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