By Pastor Phil Ronzhemier,
Little Falls Alliance Church
The prodigal son came back — changed! What a relief from the months of heartbreak his father had experienced. The situation described in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son has taken place countless times, but in many cases the breach between parent and child does not mend quite as well as in this story. The following modified version of the prodigal’s story in Luke 15 describes what happens all too often:
“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.’ And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the young son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.
“ Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country and he began to be in need.
“So he wrote his father a letter and said, ‘Dad, things are tough; I’m out of money and I may end up having to slop hogs for a living in order to survive.’
“The father was mortified. ‘Perish the thought that my son should have to do such a degrading thing as slop hogs.’ So he sent him a letter with some money; but the son squandered that money, too.
“When the boy had left home, part of his inheritance included the old family car. But it wasn’t long before he became dissatisfied with that: it just didn’t match his style. Pop saved the day and gave his son a new sports car for his birthday.
“Once, in the middle of the night, the father got a phone call from his son. The boy’s voice sounded as if he were standing in a room with concrete walls. He was.
“‘Dad,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a little problem and I was wondering if you could help me out. Some of my friends and I were out for a ride tonight. They all were drinking and they forced me to take a few sips. You know I don’t like alcohol, but they forced me. Anyway, the police picked us up and pressed DUI charges against us. Looks like I’ll be in jail for a few days unless I can come up with some bond money.’
“Dad couldn’t stand the thought of his son spending time in jail, so he wired the money to him right away. The pattern continued — rebellion, trouble, a plea for help and a sympathy check in return. It worked every time. In fact, it was never necessary for the boy to come to his senses because he was never allowed to experience the consequences of his rebellion. He not only wasted his father’s estate; he wasted his own life, too.
“Riotous living led to an early death. His dad wept at the graveside as the casket was lowered into the ground. He felt so bad. But even in death, the boy’s lifelong pattern of behavior was sealed. The casket his father had purchased was a very expensive one, of course.”
A different story
The Biblical version of the story is quite different. After squandering his inheritance, the boy actually did end up in a pigpen. That sounds terrible, but the pigpen became his altar of conversion.
Two important truths stand out in Jesus’ story. First, the son’s repentance involved every facet of his personality. Luke 15:17 says he “came to his senses.”
Repentance involves a change of mind. The New Testament word for confession is a compound Greek word meaning “to speak the same.” The person who is open to repentance and confession changes his mind about sin. Instead of whitewashing it, he says what God says about it — that it is sin.
The prodigal’s repentance also involved his emotional being. Jesus reveals to us the thoughts that developed in the young man’s mind: “I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’” (Luke 15:18-19, NASB).
The prodigal’s repentance involved a change of mind, heart and will.
This was more than a superficial repentance. He had, in addition to a change of mind, a change of heart. Genuine repentance is more than a flippant intellectual acknowledgment of sin. The son felt deep sorrow for the anguish he had caused his father.
However, there was still one more element involved in his repentance. Verse 20 says, “He got up and came to his father.” He had a change of will. Repentance is more than shedding tears. The Bible distinguishes between worldly sorrow and genuine repentance.
“I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
King Saul and Judas Iscariot are prime examples of men whose repentance was incomplete. But the prodigal’s repentance was complete, for it involved a change of mind, heart and will.
The second important truth in this story centers on the father’s wise love. Unlike the modified version of the story, the Biblical version portrays a father who refused to subsidize the rebellion of his son. Continuing to finance his son’s rebellion would only have prolonged it. He knew that indulgence and pampering would have aborted the disciplinary, redemptive process. The son had to face the consequences of his rebellion before he came to his senses.
The father won his son back by waiting. Patient, praying love won the day. Indeed, the real hero of the story is the father, who is mentioned 12 times. Examine the words in verse 20 that describe him: “While he (the son) was still a long way off, the father saw him, and felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.”
The son did not have to clean up before meeting his father. He was still barefoot and smelly. He did not have all the pieces of his life arranged perfectly, but he had deliberately turned from his sin, and his father had run to greet him.
The spiritual application is powerful. Even if you have run far away from your heavenly Father and squandered what he has given you, he has never taken his eyes off you. He lovingly awaits your return.