Have you noticed that whenever the Pharisees or other pious Jewish authorities accuse Jesus of associating with “sinners”, that Jesus never denies that they’re sinners? His response is always the same, that He’s come to save the lost. Have you also noticed that whenever a person or group approaches Christ in whom He detects an issue of sin, He always addresses it; Christ always discerns the spiritual condition of each soul He meets and, even if THEY don’t know it, points them toward their real need: Salvation. In this chapter Jesus provides 3 types of sinners and the different approaches God takes to reconcile them to Himself. It’s very important to note that this is the common result in each example: God’s desire that all sinners be reconciled back to Him. Note that there is no mention here of final judgment.
Read verses 1-2
Q: Compare and contrast the ways in which the Pharisees and Jesus each treated sinners. What’s the chief difference?
A: The Pharisees ostracized sinners, avoiding all contact; Jesus embraced sinners, bringing them within reach.
Q: So what kind of “outreach” program did the Pharisees employ to reach sinners for God?
A: None. It was completely left up to the individual to accomplish on his own.
Read verses 3-7
Q: 99 out of 100 sheep know it’s in their best interest to stay with the Shepherd and the safety of the flock. So what is the condition of the wandering sheep? What type of sinner does this represent?
A: The sinner in his stupidity. (Sorry if this isn’t politically correct. Let me know of a better word.) They wander off against all common sense and rationality. Have you known anyone like this?
Read verses 8-10
Q: It’s not known exactly when and where the coin went missing. What type of sinner does this represent?
A: The sinner unconscious of his lost condition. Have you known anyone like this?
Q: In both cases, Who knows that there’s a lost sinner needing to be found?
Q: Was either the sheep or the coin trying to find its way home?
A: No, God actively searched them out.
Point: These parables represent the seeking love of God. This is quite a contrast to the Pharisees’ approach to have nothing to do with sinners. They sought to go as far away in the opposite direction of sinners; Christ goes out of His way to look for them. The Pharisees saw God’s laws as a measuring stick to compare each other with and missed God’s many admonitions that the law is “love” both towards God and for their neighbors.
Application: How can we act more like Christ to those that become the lost sheep or coin?
Read verses 11-15
Q: What can we divine from verse 12 as to the root cause of this young man’s request?
A: He no longer wants to be under another’s authority. As a type of sinner he’s seeking to be out from under divine control in order to be his own master. Have we ever been like that or known someone the same?
Q: He probably thought to throw off the heavy yoke of his father for the light yoke of being his own master. But what was the actual result?
A: He came under the much heavier yoke of worldly masters who neither cared for him nor had an inheritance for him. (See Matthew 11:28-30)
Q: “Loose living” is a polite way of saying “prostitutes”. To what does the Old Testament equate harlotry?
A: In the OT harlotry = idolatry. The complete turning of one’s back on God. The condition being described is that of someone knowingly choosing a replacement for God, not stupidly wandering off or unconscious of the point at which they became lost.
Q: He is in another country where the Mosaic law is not practiced. Back in his father’s country would he have gotten a job herding swine?
A: No. These were considered unclean animals.
Q: So what is the significance of becoming a swine herder?
A: He has completely turned his back on everything – first forsaking his father’s authority, forsaking God to embrace idolatry (self over God), and finally forsaking all the Law.
Q: What is the main difference between the sheep and coin compared to the prodigal son? What type of sinner does he represent?
A: The sinner that is KNOWINGLY and WILLINGLY estranged from God.
Read verses 16-19
Q: What does it finally take to turn him around? At what point does he realize the truth of his situation?
A: When there’s no one caring for him. He started out to use the world but it’s ended up using him. It’s the condition of an idolater as described in Jeremiah 30:14, “All your lovers have forgotten you, they do not seek you; for I have wounded you with the wound of an enemy, with the punishment of a cruel one, because your iniquity is great and your sins are numerous.”
Q: OT Kings for $500, Alex – Who was an example of the prodigal son?
A: Manasseh. (2 Chronicles 33:11-13)
Point: This should not have been a “new” story to the Pharisees. They not only had examples such as Manasseh, but numerous Scriptural references that God would accept anyone back regardless of the depth of their sin provided that they turned back to him with all their heart. This was one of the most repeated concepts in the OT. There are too many references to list, but for example, Jeremiah 2:19, “’Your own wickedness will correct you, and your apostasies will reprove you; know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God, and the dread of Me is not in you,’ declares the Lord God of hosts.” Jesus reinforces the OT teaching that no matter how far anyone goes in sin, they can always return to God if they seek Him.
Q: In rehearsing what he will say to his father in verses 18 and 19, is it his intention to renounce his sonship and become a hired hand?
A: His request will be reconciliation as a son but treatment as one of the servants. He’s not simply returning to a home or an assured meal ticket but is going to make amends for the first, original sin in seeking to break from his father’s authority. Remember David’s confession, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight….” (Psalm 51:4)
Read verses 20-24
Q: Does God make those returning come and grovel and plead for reconciliation?
A: While the returning son was still far off and far from view his father goes out to meet him.
Q: Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat for $1,000, Alex – What dramatic OT events used this same set of terms which literally mean, “he fell on his neck and kissed him”?
A: Both when Joseph was reconciled to his brother Benjamin after all the years of isolation in Egypt, and again when Joseph saw his father Israel again. The imagery is the same as Joseph, having completely forgiven and forgotten the injustices and hardships inflicted on him, only to receive his lost brother and father in complete joy.
Q: What do you suppose the things the father presents the returning son – the robe, the ring, the sandals – represent?
A: These are OT symbols of forgiveness of sin (the new robe), sonship and authority of the father (the ring), and as slaves went barefoot, the mark of freedom (the sandals) from one’s sinful past.
Q: In the first 2 parables God is the seeker. Who is the seeker in this parable?
A: The sinner himself since he willfully and knowingly separated from God. Whereas the first 2 parables show the seeking love of God, this parable shows the receiving love of God. The Pharisees practiced neither.
Q: What is the common response to all 3 sinners in this chapter?
A: Joyous celebration at their return.
Read verses 25-32
Q: Is the elder son incorrect in any of his assertions to the father?
A: No, but that isn’t really the issue.
Q: What is wrong with his assertion about not ever having a party with his own friends?
A: It’s a focus on worldly rewards, desiring something in the here and now instead of relying on the faith and knowledge of his greater, future reward.
Point: From a certain perspective it’s a test of faith for BOTH parties – for the sinner to return to the assurance of reconciliation in this life, and for the saint’s assurance of his reward in the next. The Pharisees, for instance, were consumed with THIS life’s rewards. Like the prodigal son, they were spending everything they were ever going to get.
Suggestion: Close with group prayer for the return of specific individuals in our field of vision and for ourselves to focus on things from the right perspective.