Parable of the Lost Son


  1. SCAVENGER HUNT!  “Lose” some things around where you meet and then have everyone go find them.
  2. Have a pet?  “Accidentally” let it out of the house/cage.  Let everyone chase it for a while.  When it’s not funny anymore, lure it back with a treat/food/toy.  Wasn’t it dumb for the pet to run from someplace where it’s fed and cared for?  (Disclaimer:  don’t let a pet bird out of the house.  I doubt it would be lured back)
  3. Tell stories about when someone ran away as a kid.  How long until you went home?  Were you in trouble when you got back?


Main Points (Choose ONE)

1.  Impatience for pleasure can lead to the loss of everything we value.  But even at the low point of destruction, there’s the possibility to “come to our senses” and return home.

2.  God’s forgiveness is utterly complete and comes without strings attached.  We don’t have to earn our way back into relationship with him…. He’s watching and waiting for us and will come to meet us.

3.  When someone is restored into relationship with God, we must also forgive him. God removes sin “as far as the east is from the west,” (Ps. 103) so we can’t keep bringing the past back up, resenting them for their past.  We must rejoice and join Heaven’s party of redemption.


The story:  found in Luke 15:11-32

Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem and large crowds are still with him.  He’s been told Herod wants to kill him, but that doesn’t worry him.  When he has eaten with Pharisee’s (the prominent, religiously knowledgeable people), they’re watching him closely to see if he messes up.  But Jesus’ reasoning and stories keep surprising them.  Then he tells the stories about “lost things,” like a lost son.

(THE PRODIGAL SON)   There was a guy who had two sons.  The younger one couldn’t wait to get his inheritance, so asked the father for his share.  When the estate was divided, this younger son left for a foreign country and squandered/wasted all his wealth in “wild living.”  (Just use your imagination.)

When all the money was gone, there was a famine in the country and he had to hire himself out to a man who let him feed the pigs.  He was so hungry, just starving, and he wished he could eat what the pigs were eating.  The gross leftovers sent to the pigs started to look appetizing to him.  But no one gave him anything to eat.

At this point, he “came to his senses.”  He said to himself, even the hired men at my dad’s house have extra food; they never go hungry.  But me, his son, I’m starving to death.  He thought, I’ve got to go back, as shameful as it is, I’ll just say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”

(THE FATHER)  So, he heads home.  “But while he was 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.”  The son said his speech.  But the father barely listened, and instead told servants to bring the best robe, a ring for his finger, and shoes for his feet.  The father said, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.

          For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

 (THE OTHER BROTHER)  Good story right?  But not everyone celebrated.  The older brother came home from work to find a party and had to ask a servant what was going on.  When he found out his little brother—who had foolishly abandoned the family and squandered his wealth—was back, he refused to go to the party.

He was angry.  He said to his father, I’ve been working hard for you all these years, and I never disobey.  But I don’t even get a young goat to celebrate with my friends.  That little brother of mine uses up all your money on prostitutes and you give him the best meal—a fattened calf!

(THE FATHER, again)  The father said “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  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.”

Point #1The younger son is a symbol for every sinner. (His story should be familiar on a college campus where everyone is testing their freedom now that they are away from mom and dad.) He was extremely eager to go out on his own and live independently.  He wanted his inheritance while his dad was still alive. He didn’t want to keep working everyday.  So he goes out to be his own boss, and he forgets all the moral teaching and instruction he was brought up in.  Sounds good, right?  Nobody to nag him anymore.  But it backfired when he was reduced to a status lower than a pig.

We, too, disobey and try to live by our own rules, disregarding the future consequences.  It’s not until we’re sitting in mud, eating pig slop that we are humbled enough to go back to what we should have done in the first place.

But when we come to our senses… when we see the difference between right and wrong… it’s so obvious that going back is way better than staying where we are.  Even though we’re going back as lowered, as shameful,  as I’m-so-embarrassed-that-I-acted-that-way, it’s worth it to take the reduced status because where we’ve been was pretty awful.

Point #2The father represents how God treats us.  He lets us choose what we do and how we act, even if it’s painful to him.  And even if we choose wrongly, if we mess things up, he is always watching, looking out on the horizon, waiting for us to come back to him.

When the prodigal son came back, he knew he didn’t deserve it.  He didn’t expect to be taken in with all the privileges of a son, but instead thought he could earn his way in the house by being a servant.  That’s like us, too.  We’re always trying to DO something to make up for our sins because we realize we don’t deserve forgiveness.

But it’s like the father just rolled his eyes at the thought of his son being a servant.  He wasn’t just willing but glad, excited to restore the son to his former position.  God is ready to do that for us.  He has done it for us already.  We can be accepted into his house as full-fledged children without ever doing anything to earn back our place.

The father—and God—weren’t waiting to punish the prodigal son.  What he wanted more than anything was for them to be together again.

Point #3The older brother represents the “good little Christian” person who is reading his Bible, praying, going to church, leading a cell group.  The one who worships freely, is always cheerfully helpful, is never absent.  After a while of doing the kinds of things that come in our lives after God gives us new hearts and renews our minds, it’s tempting to begin to fill “self-righteous.”

It’s like we forget that we ever needed to be forgiven.  We think that our personalities naturally lead us to do all these “good” or “admirable” things, when really we are only able to do any of the “right” things if God’s grace is working in our lives.  Without his influence and without submission to his will, all of the things we’ve “done” that we’re so proud of would be nonexistent.

Really, we’ve done nothing.  God is doing it through us.  But we forget that.  Just like the older brother who was so proud and self-righteous that he was the “good” son who didn’t upset his father.  He forgot that he had messed up, too.  He was young once…I can imagine that like any kid he disobeyed, lied, broke stuff, started fights, whined, said mean things… I mean, the Bible says that ‘all have sinned.’

But the brother forgot the grace he received everyday from the father and was jealous when his younger brother was restored through grace so easily, without any repercussions.  He probably thought the younger brother should have to work a little at least and earn the trust back.

And these selfish, jealous, self-righteous thoughts separated him from what his father’s will was.  He wasn’t on the same page as the father… he missed it because he was focused on what seemed fair to him.

When we are tempted to feel self-righteous when we’re around newly restored children of God, we need to hear the Father’s will again… ­not willing that ANY should perish.

Human Struggles

  1. We think we know best.
    1. We think the rules don’t apply to us.
    2. And we think there are no consequences for out actions.
    3. We choose to act contrary to what God would do.
  1. We misunderstand God’s character.
    1. We think he’s waiting for us to mess up because he “loves” to punish us.
    2. We forget that he’s actually looking for us to return to him, straining his eyes, looking “a long way off” to see when we’re headed back
    3. He considers us “lost” when we choose to leave him and something as valuable as a son or daughter must be “found” again

We are self-righteous

    1. We don’t think other people deserve to be forgiven
    2. We think it’s unfair when a “sinner” is blessed or gets something we don’t have
    3. We forget our own need for forgiveness.

Application Helps (Questions to start the discussion)

  1. –Have you ever done something just because you’re parents said it wasn’t allowed?
    1. What made you want to?…curiosity?  rebellion?  desire for personal “freedom?”
    2. Did you think about the consequences ahead of time?
    3. Was there anything unexpected that happened?
    4. Was there ever a moment when you thought, “Well, mom and dad were right. Wish I hadn’t done that.”
  2. –When you make a friend mad, how do you apologize?
    1. What do you do to make up for it?
    2. How do you know when you’ve earned their trust back or when they aren’t holding a grudge anymore?

–What about with your parents?  How did you try to make up for disobeying as a kid?

a.          Do extra chores?

b.          Make them laugh?

3.         –Was there a time when you thought your siblings didn’t get punished enough?  When you’re parents were being too easy on them?

a.         Did you compare it to a time when you were punished?

–How long does it take for you to forgive your friend for doing something hurtful?

a.         How do they get your trust back?

b.         Is what happened in the past always an issue?