Are you familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son? Is this parable one of your favorites? Is it perhaps one of the few stories you know from the Bible?
TRUE OR FALSE. The parable of the prodigal son is a mirror of every human heart and conscience. (xvii)
One of my very first FAVORITE songs was "When God Ran" by Benny Hester. It was on the album Benny From Here. (I think I listened to that cassette hundreds if not thousands of times.) Of course, that is not the only song that has made mention of this parable from Luke 15. (Others include Mystery of Mercy and The Prodigal Son Suite. There may be dozens of others as well. If you have a favorite, leave a note in the comment.)
I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED John MacArthur's A Tale of Two Sons. I loved it for many reasons. I loved it because it was engaging, thought-provoking, challenging. Most people--most Christians--think they know the story, all they need to know about the story. It has become a feel-good story, a cozy story, a safe story, a nostalgic story perhaps bringing to mind flannel story boards. Who doesn't like the story of the Prodigal Son?!?!
MacArthur challenges readers to give the story another read, to look closer, to experience the story as its original audience would have--so far as possible. Who was the original audience?
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.” Luke 15:1-2TRUE OR FALSE. The truth of the Bible doesn't change with time or mean different things in different cultures. Whatever the text meant when it was originally written, it still means today. Whatever Jesus intended to communicate to His listeners when He told this parable, that meaning still constitutes its only true message… Until we begin to comprehend the ideals and attitudes that shaped the culture, we can't expect to gain a full appreciation of the parable's main lesson. (5, 8)
TRUE OR FALSE. Jesus did not consort or seek fellowship with sinners in their sin. His overtures to sinners were always in the context of seeking their salvation, offering His grace and mercy, and extending to them forgiveness. He healed them, cleansed them, and released them from the prison of guilt and degradation. Yes, of course, Jesus consorted with sinners, but always as their deliverer. He was a true friend of sinners--the most authentic kind of friend. He served them and reached out to them and laid hold of their lives. Jesus didn't affirm them in their sin. Quite the contrary: He gave His whole self for them to redeem them from sin's cruel bondage. (22)
Jesus tells three parables at this time, to this audience. In Luke 15:3-7, He tells the parable of the Lost Sheep. In Luke 15:8-10, He tells the parable of the Lost Coin. The main point of those parables were as follows:
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10Essentially, he was stressing: when sinners repent it is time to rejoice and celebrate. God himself is rejoicing--and all the angels too! And also, in those two parables God is symbolically seen as searching and seeking the lost. What we get is not the sinners' perspective, but God's perspective.
TRUE OR FALSE. To them [the original audience], the idea that God would freely accept and forgive repentant sinners (including the very worst of them) was a shocking and revolutionary concept. That's why Christ's practice of immediately receiving such people into His fellowship was such a public scandal. Almost no one in that society could conceive of God as reaching out to sinners… In our culture, the tendency usually goes to the opposite extreme. Too many people today take God's forgiveness for granted. They think of Him as so unconcerned about sin that things such as redemption, atonement, and the wrath of God are unsophisticated, crude, outmoded concepts. (20)
The third parable is different, and not just because it is longer. There are THREE perspectives. A sinner's perspective, we get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what true repentance looks like, in a way. God's perspective--the Father in the story represents CHRIST by the way--is shown. Here we see MERCY IN ACTION. But we also get the elder brother's perspective. Who did the elder brother represent? The pharisees and scribes. And this wasn't subtle, but, obvious to his audience.
MacArthur argues that the parable would have been shocking, upsetting, scandalous, and, towards the end abrasive. It would have left a very BITTER taste in the mouth to the Pharisees and scribes hearing the story. MacArthur would have you know that the elder brother in the story is not an afterthought, an epilogue. No, the elder brother is "the main reason Jesus told the parable… Jesus is pointing out the stark contrast between God's own delight in the redemption of sinners and the Pharisees' inflexible hostility toward those same sinners." (xiii, xvi)
TRUE OR FALSE. If you can hear the parable of the prodigal son and not identify yourself, you are missing the unspoken point of Jesus' message. It is a call to repentance, and it applies to prodigals (immoral, outcast sinners) and Pharisees (moral, respectable hypocrites) alike. Both the point and counterpoint of the parable underscores this idea. (36)
A Tale of Two Sons is divided into five sections: 1) The Parable (chapters 1 & 2), 2) The Prodigal (chapters 3-6), 3) The Father (chapters 7-8), 4) The Elder Brother (chapters 9-10), and 5) The Epilogue (chapter 11 titled: "The Shocking Real-Life Ending").
Another point MacArthur stresses in A Tale of Two Sons is that "everything Jesus does and says in the second half of Luke's Gospel drives the narrative to the cross" (9). The CROSS needs to be taken into account when we read the parable in context.
A Tale of Two Sons is a compelling nonfiction read that I'd definitely recommend. If you're not familiar with John MacArthur's works, this one would be a GREAT place to start. The gospel is proclaimed in A Tale of Two Sons, and, much is said of OUR SAVIOR AND REDEEMER.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible