Lost Part 3 – The Return of the Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-32 Click Link for Scripture

All the Bible is written for us, but not all the Bible is written to us. When I read the Bible, one thing I need to determine before I start making application to my life and to the lives of people around me, is whether I’m reading something that is written to me or something that is written for me.

When we’re reading stories in the Hebrew Bible, the book we call the Old Testament, it’s important to read them through the lens of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels and of the writings in the Christian Bible, the book we call the New Testament. Reading with these questions in mind can help us to be clear on what we should learn from what we’re reading:

    • Is the intent for us to learn principles, patterns, and consequences so we can make wise decisions in life?
    • Is this written to help us understand how cause and effect works over a lifetime?
    • Does what we’re reading include specific instructions for us to act upon in the present moment.

Here’s another important thing to keep in mind when we read the Bible: When I find something that is written to me, I must know if it’s written to me to help me with something in my life or if it’s something I’m to apply to other people as well. I think sometimes we make the mistake of trying to tell other people what they’re supposed to be doing rather than actually applying what the Bible says to our own lives.

When I’m reading the teachings of Jesus, I can be pretty sure this is something that’s written to me, because I’m a disciple, a Jesus-follower. When I’m reading the stories Jesus told, I look for myself in the story and ask the Holy Spirit to show me how the truth contained in the story applies to my life. What Jesus is saying in his teachings and his stories always relates to me in some practical way: it shapes my faith, it informs my attitudes, and it directs my actions.

Jesus’ story of the Lost Son is such a good example of that! Each of the characters: The Lost Son, the Older Brother, and the Father have something to teach me.

Here’s how the “Lost Series” of blog posts came about. I was reading and thinking about the story of the Lost Son in Luke 15 and I realized that this story was not a “standalone” Story. It’s one of three stories, all addressed to a specific group of people and all communicating a different aspect of the same truth. The lost sheep mattered to the shepherd, the lost coin mattered to the woman, and the lost son mattered to his father. The core truth in the stories: Lost people matter to God and to us!

Then I realized that there’s no bad guy in any of the three stories! We’re so dualistic in our thinking that our stories have to have a good guy and a bad guy. We think in terms of Good/Bad, Right/Wrong, In/Out, Accepted/r\Rejected. The good guy wins and the bad guy loses; the good guy is accepted, the bad guy is rejected; the good guy gets rewarded, the bad guy gets punished.

In the story of the Lost Son it seems apparent on the surface that the Younger Son represents sinners and despicable people (see Luke 15:1-2), the Older Son represents the Pharisees and teachers of religious law, and the Father represents God. And at first, it seems the younger son is the bad guy, but when he comes home and is embraced by his father, the older brother seems like the bad guy. It’s all very confusing when we’re looking for good guys and bad guys!

But here’s the thing we must not miss: In the Lost Stories in Luke 15, Jesus was trying to communicate to a group of law-abiding religious people that God loves non-law-abiding sinners. In the eyes of the Pharisees, they were “despicable people”, unlovable and rejected! In God’s eyes, they were lost but loved! There are no good guys and bad guys in these stories! There are unlost people and there are lost people (who are loved just as much as the unlost people!)

As I was processing these thoughts, I talked to my friend Jim Petersen about what I was beginning to see and he told me about a painting by Rembrandt called “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, and about a book by Henri Nouwen that unfolds this story in a powerful way. It would not waste your time or money to read that book. You can find it on Amazon Kindle. “The Return of the Prodigal Son, Anniversary Edition: A Special Two-in-One Volume, including Home Tonight” – by Henri Nouwen.

Next three posts: “The Lost Son”; then “The Older Brother”; then “The Father”.

So friends, I’m inviting you to explore with me, over the next few posts, these powerful truths:

    • Lost People Matter To God.
    • Unlost people also matter to God.

It’s God’s intention to show how much he loves both kinds of people, lost and unlost. And to help us do the same.

As always, I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this on the blog, comment at the end. If you’re reading in an email, simply reply to the email with your comments.


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