The Prodigal Son Story

Last week, we began our study of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I love that Jesus knew exactly how to illustrate spiritual truth in ways which everyone could identify with if they had ears to hear. He had the Pharisees in mind when He spoke this parable, but what lessons can we learn? We pick up the Prodigal Son story with the elder brother’s reactions to the reconciliation of his younger brother.

The Prodigal Son story- back view of man hiking down dirt trail in woods with blue backpack and walking stick

The Elder Brother 

Meanwhile, the older son returns home from the field. He hears music and dancing and asks a servant what was going on.

“Your brother has come, he replied, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” v27.

The elder brother does not take the news well. His younger brother broke with Jewish law and deserved punishment, not grace and forgiveness. He gets angry and then he breaks with custom by refusing to go into the feast. If he entered, it would seem he was honoring his younger brother, which he would not do.

Even though this was an insult, the father again shows grace –

“So his father went out and pleaded with him.” v28.

Jewish culture would expect the father to seriously reprimand the older son for dishonoring him. But true to his nature, the father offers love and grace instead. He comes out to help the older son understand.

Sadly, the elder brother meets the love and forgiveness of the father with bitter resentment and jealousy.

“All these years, I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” v29.

He accuses the father of favoritism, sees himself as his father’s slave, not a son, and insults his brother. He’s irritated that his brother has returned.

In their culture, the older son’s behavior and speech should enrage the father. But instead, he reassures the elder brother that his rights are protected- “everything I have is yours.” v31. He wants him to understand that extending grace to his prodigal brother did not affect his inheritance or the love he had for him.

Luke 15:32

He’s trying to help the elder brother understand the meaning of grace.

“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.” (NIV)

How sad for the father. Both sons break the father’s heart with their rebellious words and actions. He extends the same grace and love to each one. He defies the norm of his culture, and with humiliation, goes out to meet with both.

One seems to understand and accepts the grace and love.

The story ends here; we do not know if the elder brother remains lost and estranged to his father.

The Prodigal Son Story- middle east feast table with fruits, cups of wine on a red satin tablecloth

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What is the Main Message of the Prodigal Son? 

Remember back to the statement of the Pharisees- it upset them that Jesus was welcoming and eating with sinners.

In Jesus’ day, inviting someone to a meal was an honor. Sharing a table meant sharing your life with them. And it was exactly what Jesus had planned.

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17 NIV

The disgruntled and self-righteous Pharisees complained that Jesus, a rabbi, eats and communes with sinners, therefore making Himself “unclean” according to Jewish law.

This parable was Jesus’ response to their complaints.

Jesus is laying out the gospel message to the Pharisees!

He was telling a story of a father (Himself) who rejoices when his lost son (the sinner) returns and repents. He puts on a banquet to celebrate their reconciliation.

The younger son represents the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was mingling with.

The older son portrayed the Pharisees- those who outwardly kept the law but sinned in their hearts. The older son thought he had earned his inheritance and the love of his father through his work on the farm.

In my younger days, I pictured God as a wrathful, thunderbolt-throwing God; angered by my sin. I would have to crawl into His presence, take His wrath, and hope He met my repentance with acceptance.

What a contrast to the true picture of our loving Father- one who, though grieved by our sin, allows us the freedom to choose it. He waits and watches patiently for us to return to Him; running to greet us with love. There is nothing we can do to earn this love; He has already paid the heavy price for our sin.

Grace saves us through faith in Jesus and not by our own efforts or works (Ephesians 2:8-9) When we accept this freely offered grace, we can come and sit with Him at the table of reconciliation.

The father offered both sons this grace in the parable, but we aren’t told the end of the story. Will the elder son respond to the grace and love of his father? Will he come to the father’s banquet?

The Prodigal Son Lesson 

This parable is not so much about the prodigal son, but the restoration plan of God. We see God’s amazing forgiveness, love and patience for each of his children.

Who Does the Prodigal Son Represent? 

The prodigal son shows us a picture of ourselves when God lets us go our own way. We all sin; maybe not to the extreme in this story, but we all reject God’s way and go after the shiny but empty things of the world that catch our eye.

Eventually, our sin catches up with us. The joy or pleasure we thought it would bring fades, leaving feelings of guilt and regret. Sin separates us from God and leaves us with an emptiness that the world can’t fill. It can manifest itself in feelings of boredom, apathy, or loneliness.

This is another huge lesson of the story, and one that is sometimes overlooked- in order to be restored and reconciled, we must repent.

Our pride can get in the way of repentance, but when we dishonor God with sin, He holds us accountable.

And when we do repent? There is indescribable joy in heaven!!

the prodigal son story- bright white beaming light from dark blue sky with white clouds

Luke 15:21 

Meanwhile, God patiently waits for us to come back to Him, admitting that we “have sinned against heaven and against you!” (NIV)

Confession of sin keeps us from living in embarrassment, fear, and guilt. It lifts the weight and burden of sin off our backs and brings us closer to Jesus- acknowledging and thanking Him for paying our debt.

What a comfort to know we can never sink so low that He doesn’t stop watching for us and praying to see us return. What a blessing to know that our return brings Him joy!

The prodigal son’s story is a glorious reminder that we can run into our Father’s arms at any time. He gave us His Son to heal and seal our relationship forever. He doesn’t give us what we deserve but removes our sin “as far as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12 NIV.

The actions of the prodigal son show us that there is nothing than can prohibit us from receiving our Father’s forgiveness once we decide to repent and turn back to Him.

Who does the older son represent in the prodigal son?

The older son was an illustration of the self-righteous Pharisees- they looked faithful and upright on the outside, but their inner attitudes were prideful, greedy, and self-indulgent. The older son’s words and actions show us his lack of love and respect for his father and brother when his brother returns.

He was so focused on himself, what he believed he deserved, and the perceived injustice of the situation that he couldn’t see the joy in having his own brother repent and return to the family.

He had no compassion or forgiveness in his heart.

The Pharisees thought their works (keeping the law) would earn them blessings and eternal life. Neither the older son nor the Pharisees had an inkling of understanding about the grace of God or the meaning of forgiveness.

I must admit, the first time I heard this story, I thought the older son had a point! It certainly did not seem “fair” that the father would forgive the younger son in such a grand manner. Surely he deserved some kind of punishment?

But then I was hit with this sobering truth –

Jesus takes our punishment for us…

The actions and the attitudes of the older brother made me think-

When have I focused on what I need, want, or “deserved”? Or been unwilling to forgive?

Characteristics of the Father of the Prodigal Son 

I never thought of the father as the main character in the story, but Jesus mentions him more than the sons. This forgiving father shows us a beautiful picture of our Father and His loving concern for the lost of the world.

Jesus wants us to respond like the father in the story. When others make mistakes, we shouldn’t respond in anger or condemn them. We are to run towards them with forgiveness and grace.

It’s also a story of hope! Have you been waiting years for your prodigal to return? Let the Father in this story encourage you- he didn’t lose faith in seeing his son again- he watched for him daily!


How does this story help you understand God’s amazing grace in a new light?

How does the father’s generous responses to both his son’s humiliating words and actions change the way you see others who have offended you?

Forgiveness and reconciliation can sometimes be hard, but the Enemy is counting on you to hold on to your feelings of injustice and anger.

Do you sometimes doubt God’s love for you? His love for YOU is as high as the heavens are above the earth! (Psalm 103:11) Picture the Father watching and waiting for YOU with open arms; ready to place His robe on your shoulders and have a feast in your honor!



Photo Credit: Canva

4 thoughts on “The Prodigal Son Story”

  1. Wonderful post annmarie. Most of us don’t know the meaning and intention of God towards wayward man. Do pray for me too to be reconciled to god . As you have rightly pointed out sin of insidious pride comes in the way of sincere repentance. How to overcome sin of pride which keeps me focused on self

    1. Thank you Reginald! I too was convicted of the sin that creeps into my heart. I pray each morning against the sin of pride and ask for a humble spirit using Philippians 2:3 as my prayer guide: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” I will be praying for you! Blessings, AnnMarie

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