It has to be one of the most compelling stories ever told. It is often called the story of the “Prodigal Son,” but Jesus never called it that. In its context, it is much more than a story about a lost boy who finds his way back home. Jesus told this story in response to a group of Pharisees and religious leaders who were murmuring about the fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders loved having control over the dinner invitation list. They were very picky about those with whom they ate and had fellowship.
You know the story; it’s pretty familiar to all of us. At its conclusion, Jesus told how the Father hired a band and killed the fatted calf in celebration of the return of his younger son. The older son returned from working in the fields, heard the celebration and smelled the barbecue. He soon learned that his sinful brother had not only returned, but was restored by the father. The party was in celebration of this fact. He was indignant and refused to go in. To some, grace is not amazing, it's irritating.
The Father went to the angry son and pleaded with him, but he refused to join the celebration. The older son then offered the Father a detailed laundry list of all of the younger son’s misdeed, and indicted the father for throwing a party to celebrate the sinful lifestyle and easy return of the son. He was wrong. The celebration was not for the lost son; not for the wasted years of his life. The celebration was the fathers. Luke 15:32 says: "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.' " The party was the father's party.
In the two earlier portions of this one parable, the Bible tells us that, like a lost sheep, when one sinner is found there is great rejoicing in heaven. When a woman found a lost coin, it says that there was great rejoicing in the presence of the angels. The party is God's party. He does not celebrate the failures of our lives, but instead celebrates the repentance of our lives. He celebrates when one sinner has his fill of “the pods that the pigs eat” and comes to himself. Heaven is full of rejoicing, but the “religious” seldom know such celebration.
Oddly enough, Jesus ended the story without a conclusion, as if to say, “If you want to know how the story ends, then write your own conclusion.” Will you be like the “religious”, who refuse to celebrate the repentance of sinners? Will you be like the Father who is compelled to celebrate. God celebrates when one comes to Christ.
My burden is that the latest statistics indicate that it takes 411 Southern Baptists per year to win one person to faith in Christ. That seems to be a high number of people standing outside with their arms crossed. Nothing, and I mean nothing invigorates your spiritual life like winning someone to faith in Christ. Maybe we have made the same mistake that the older brother made, and we started thinking that the celebration was about us. In fact it is the Father's celebration and we are invited! Come on in. It’s a blast!