The Prodigal God

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There is a familiar story found in Luke 15, known as the story of the prodigal son. Because of its title, we focus on the son and his actions after he walked away with his inheritance. He chased after sinful pleasures, hoping to find a fulfillment which could not be found.

While the lost son is a vital part of the story, it is certainly not the whole story. Luke 15 also contains the story of a self-righteous son. This son prided himself on being better than his brother. He followed the rules, and expected to be rewarded for it. He was unforgiving and harsh. He was judgmental and complained to his father that he never received what he thought he deserved. This son would have agreed with the prayer of the Pharisee in the parable Jesus told in Luke 18.

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.’ – Luke 18:10-11

Both sons misunderstood their father and the relationship he called them to enjoy. This brings us to the third person in the story — the father.

Timothy Keller explores God’s relationship with the brothers, and his response to their sin, in the study The Prodigal God. To fully understand God, we must dig into the father’s response to both brothers. This study offers a great opportunity to try our new site, Study Gateway, (FREE for 30 days!) to participate in all of the six video lessons on The Prodigal God. ~ Fred Bittner, FaithGateway Bible Studies

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prod-i-gal — adjective

  1. recklessly extravagant
  2. having spent everything

Watch the Trailer for The Prodigal God

The Parable

Read Luke 15:1-3, Luke 15:11-32 aloud.

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable…

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick!Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

To watch the video for the Session One study, sign up for a StudyGateway free trial or purchase the DVDs.

Here’s a glimpse ahead at Session Two: The People Around Jesus

Your Turn

Come join the conversation about the relationship between the father and his two sons on our blog! We would love to hear from you!

Tim Keller

Timothy Keller is the founder and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Reason for God and The Prodigal God. He has also mentored young urban church planters and pastors in New York and other cities through Redeemer City to City, which has helped launch over 200 churches in 35 global cities to date.

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