Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” … And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living….” Luke 15:1-2,11ff. (Also read Luke 15:11-32)
In the first verses of Luke 15, we are told that the Pharisees and scribes murmured against Jesus because He received known sinners who came to Him to hear His life-giving Word. Rather than rejoicing with the angels of heaven over these lost sinners who were being converted and saved through Jesus’ Word (cf. v. 3-10), the Pharisees and scribes were critical of Jesus for receiving such persons. The parable of the prodigal son was told by Jesus to show them that they too should repent and that they should rejoice over the repentance of lost sinners.
The prodigal son in this parable must certainly have been considered to be the worst of sinners in the eyes of the Jewish scribes and Pharisees. Not only had he wasted his inheritance on prostitutes and in riotous living; he even cared for, lived with, and tried to eat with pigs. Yet, when he came to his senses and returned to his father seeking forgiveness for his sins, his father forgave him and rejoiced at his return.
This is a beautiful description of our heavenly Father and His forgiveness for our many sins against Him. Our heavenly Father created us to serve Him and do His will. He placed us over His creation on the earth that we might use these things according to His will and for His glory (Gen. 1:26ff.). But man disobeyed the LORD God and fell into sin. Instead of living for the LORD and using His creation in accord with His will, we have all turned aside from the LORD and His holy will and have used His creation for our own selfish ends. Like the prodigal son, all of us sinners need to confess: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21; cf. Gen. 3; Rom.3:9-20,23).
Because God sent His only begotten Son into the world to suffer and die for our sins, we can be sure that our heavenly Father will also forgive us when we repent of our sins and turn to Him for forgiveness (cf. 1 John 1:9; 2:1-2; Rom. 3:23-26). Through faith in Christ, our heavenly Father not only forgives all our sins against Him; He receives us as sons and gives us an eternal inheritance with Him in heaven (Gal. 3:26-29; 4:4-5).
Jesus’ parable goes on to describe the great rejoicing which took place when the prodigal son returned, and of the anger of his brother that such a wicked son would be received back with joy and celebration.
Because the Pharisees and scribes did not see their own need to repent and receive forgiveness through the Lord Jesus Christ, they, like the angry brother in the parable, could only see the great sin of those coming to Jesus. They did not see the great blessings of forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation which were being imparted to these penitent sinners for Jesus’ sake, and they were, therefore, unable to rejoice over the salvation of these lost souls.
Note the father’s response to the angry son: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (v. 32).
When we remember that we too “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” and that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:1,4-7), then we will be filled with joy when others also receive the salvation God has provided for them in His Son!
Alas, my God, my sins are great, my conscience doth upbraid me; and now I find that in my strait no man hath pow’r to aid me. Lord, Thee I seek. I merit naught; yet pity and restore me. Just God, be not Thy wrath my lot; Thy Son hath suffered for me. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #317, Verses 1,3)
[Scripture quotations are from The ESV® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]