“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:10; read verses 1-32 if possible).
The business of a parable is to teach us one great positive truth. If ever that should be clear, it is in this particular case. This parable is one of three parables obviously meant to reply to the murmurings of the Pharisees and scribes. The first two parables impress upon us the love of God as an activity which seeks out the sinner, that takes infinite trouble in order to find him and rescue him, and to show the joy of God and all the host of heaven when even one soul is saved.
Then comes this parable of the prodigal son. Why the greater elaboration? The first two parables have stressed God’s activity alone without telling us anything about the actions or reactions or condition of the sinner, so this parable is spoken lest anyone should be so foolish as to think that we should all be automatically saved by God’s love, just as the sheep and the lost coin were found.
A New Beginning
The first truth this parable proclaims is the possibility of a new beginning for all, even the most desperate. No case can be worse than that of the prodigal son, yet even he can start again. He has touched bottom, he has gone down so low that he could not possibly descend any further. Never has a more hopeless picture been drawn than that of this boy in the far country amidst the husks and the swine, penniless and friendless, utterly hopeless and forlorn, utterly desolate and dejected. But even he gets a fresh start. There is a turning point which leads on to fortune and to happiness even for him. What a blessed gospel, and especially in a world like this! What a difference the coming of Jesus Christ has made! What new hope for mankind appeared in Him!
Here’s the Catch
This message of the gospel is not something vague and general like the world’s message, but something to which definite conditions are attached. To avail ourselves of this new beginning and new start which is offered by the gospel, we must observe the following points.
1. The first is that we must face our position squarely, honestly, and truly. We are told that this young man “came to himself” (v. 17). He saw that his troubles were entirely due to his own actions and that he had been a fool. He saw that he should never have left his father, and should certainly never have treated him as he had done. He looked at himself and could scarcely believe that it was really himself. He looked at the husks and at the swine. He owned up to it all.
Have you done that? Have you really looked at yourself? Look at your hands—are they clean? Look at your lips—are they pure? Look at your feet—where have they been? Look around at your position and your surroundings. Be honest! It is not enough that you should just bemoan your state or feel miserable. How did you ever get into such a state and condition? Look at the swine and the husks and realize that it is all due to the fact that you have left your Father’s house. You are where you are today entirely as the result of your own choices and your own actions. Face that and admit it. That is the very first essential step on the way back.
2. The next is to realize that there is only One to whom you can turn and only one thing to do. With regard to the prodigal, “No man gave unto him” (v. 16). He had tried and exhausted his own efforts and the efforts of all other people. There was but one left. Father! The last, the only hope. The gospel always insists upon our coming to that point. Realize that all your efforts to reform yourself must fail as they have always failed. Realize further that there is only one power that can put you right—the power of Almighty God.
3. As you turn to Him, you must realize further that you can plead nothing before Him except His mercy and His compassion. As the prodigal son left home his great word was “give” (v. 12). He demanded his rights. He was full of self-confidence and even had a feeling that he was not being given his due and his rights. “Give!” But when he returns home, his vocabulary has changed and his word is now “make” (v. 19). Now he feels he is nobody and nothing, and realizes that his first need is to be made into something. “Make me!”
If you feel that you have any right to demand pardon and forgiveness from God, I can assure you that you are damned and lost. But if you realize that you have sinned against God and angered Him; if you feel you are nothing in view of the way you have left Him and turned your back upon Him; if you just cast yourself upon Him and His mercy, asking Him if in His infinite goodness and kindness He can possibly make something of you, all will be different.
4. Having realized all this, act upon it. Leave the far country. Leave the swine and the husks. Turn your back upon sin and give yourself to God. Feelings and desires and inclinations will do you no good. Do it! Make a break. Get to God and get right with God! Take your stand. Trust Him! How ridiculous it would have been for the prodigal to have thought of all he did and yet not do it! He would still have remained in the far country. But he did it. He went to his father and cast himself upon his mercy. You must do the same.
A Real New Start
When you turn to God, you will find a real, solid new beginning and new start. It is not something mystical. It is no mere matter of sentiment or feelings. It is real and actual. In Jesus Christ a real genuine new start and new beginning are possible. And they are possible in Him alone!
The greatness of the father’s love in the parable is seen in what he did. Observe how when the father goes to meet the son, he embraces him and kisses him (v. 20). And how quickly he commands the servants to strip off the rags and the tatters of the far country, and remove from his son every trace of his evil past. That is always the first thing that happens when a sinner turns to God. We go to Him and expect just as little as the prodigal; all we ask for is a kind of new beginning. God amazes and surprises us in His very first action by blotting out our past. I know that my rags and tatters have really gone when I see them on the person of Jesus Christ the Son of God, who wore them in my stead and became a curse in my place. The Father commanded Him to take my filthy rags off me and He has done so. He bore my iniquity, He clothed and covered Himself with my sin. He has taken it away and has drowned it in the sea of God’s forgetfulness. And when I see and believe that God in Christ has not only forgiven but also forgotten my past, who am I to try to look for it and to find it?
But the father does not stop at that. He clothes the boy in a way that is worthy of a son and places a ring on his finger (v. 22). No one else could do that but the father. It is precisely the same with us when we turn to God. He not only forgives and blots out the past, He makes us sons. He gives us new life and new power. He will clothe you with the robe of Christ’s righteousness. He will not only tell you that He regards you as a child, but make you feel that you are one. The world only tries to clean the old suit and make it look respectable. God in Christ alone can clothe us with the new robe and really make us strong.
Now is Your Chance
Here is an opportunity for a real new beginning. It is the only way. God Himself has made it possible by sending His only begotten Son into this world, to live and die and rise again. It matters not at all what you have been, nor what you are like at this moment. You only have to come to God confessing your sin against Him, casting yourself upon His mercy in Jesus Christ, acknowledging that He alone can save and keep. Come!
—Condensed from Evangelistic Sermons by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Published by Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA.
Let us cherish this thought deeply in our souls—the gospel of our peace is the source of joy to Him who planned and accomplished it, as these parables testify to us. —J. G. Bellett