The Prodigal

Last week I attend a Charles Simeon Workshop in Mississauga, Ontario. I cannot recommend these workshops enough. The purpose is to make preachers and teachers of the Word better. I won’t go into the details of the workshops–the link in the first sentence can lead you to all the information you might need.

Each participant is assigned a text to present to a small group. One of my texts was the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). This is Jesus’ longest parable, and also one of His most popular. My workshop leader was William Taylor, an instructor for the Simeon Trust and the most senior lecturer for the series last week. He was challenging as a workshop leader, and expected a lot out of the participants.

Below are the questions we were expected to discuss on our passages, and how I answered. Anyone who preaches or teaches on a regular basis can see the helpfulness of these questions.

1. Outline the structure of the text in a way that represents the author’s organization of the text. Please provide an outline that clearly indicates verse breaks for each unit and provide headings for each. [Consider plot—setting, conflict, climax, resolution, and new setting—as well as characters, particularly the reactions of the disciples/other characters.]”

First off, I understand that the context of vss. 1-10 is essential for the understanding of this parable. Taylor made a number of points regarding context that were very helpful. He reminded the group that the overriding concern of Luke is found in Luke’s introduction:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” –Luke 1:1-4

In keeping with this idea of certainty, it must be remembered that Luke is concerned that his readers know who is getting in and who is not getting in to the kingdom of God. This is partially in answer to the question of Luke 13:23-24:

“And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

If few are saved, it may be surprising who will be in and who will be left out of the kingdom.

Before I move further, consider the marked Bible text below:Luke 15_1

Luke 15_2

You can see that words have been marked in blue, green, and red. Each of these colours mark an English translation of a Greek word (and may represent a verb, adjective, adverb, noun, etc). So “lost” always translates a word such as “being lost” (verb), or “lost son” (adjective), etc. So blue=verb, ἀπόλλυμι; green=verb, εὑρίσκω; red=verbs χαίρω or συγχαίρω, or noun, χαρά (joy) from the root form, χαιρω. You will notice an immediate pattern, “lost, found, rejoice.”

My analysis of the text is as follows:

Immediate Context:

2b: “. . . this man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Parable of the lost sheep::lesser value, not responsible [lost-found-rejoice]

Parable of the lost coin::greater value, not responsible [lost-found-rejoice]

Parable of the Lost Son(s):

Parable of the lost sons::highest value, responsible

                Getting Lost

                                Two sons

                                                A foolish request

                                                                Race to the Bottom (wreckless living, squandering)

                                                                                Getting Found: the Repentance

                                                                Plot to return

                                                The Return, the Compassion of the Father, and the ignored request

                                One son found—Rejoice!

                Getting Lost

Race to the bottom: 1 ) Angry Rejection of the prodigal; 2) self-righteousness 3) false self-opinion; 4) thanklessness

Getting Found: The Father’s forgiveness of the Prodigal must evoke forgiveness from the elder son (rejoicing) if the elder son is to be found.

 “2. What emphasis does the structure reveal?”

The necessity of forgiveness (and what that means) of the lost by the righteous.

The above sentence is what I said in our meeting. It wasn’t until later, however, that I noticed that forgiveness, while implied in these parables, is never explicitly stated. In these parables, the “being found” results in rejoicing! This takes forgiveness to its next and urgent step.

 “3. How does the immediate context—the closest passages on both sides of your text—inform the meaning of your text? [Consider why this passage is in this place. Then, if relevant, consider any parallel texts in the other gospels if in a gospel or relevant epistles if in Acts.]”

Context: Tax collectors and sinners come near; Pharisees and scribes grumble [14:1, 2]

Parable of the lost sheep [14:3-7] and lost coin [14:8-10]. Both build to the climax of the prodigal. Both show lost-ness of lower value; both show the lost as not culpable in their lost-ness; ratios support a climax: 1:100, 1:10, 1:2.  

“4. Drawing on your work in structure, emphasis and context, state the central theme of the text in one complete sentence. [A theme should reveal the author’s big idea or primary teaching point in the passage.]”

Lost, Found, Rejoice! If a father rejoices at the return of a sinner, who are we to reject that sinner?

 “5. What are a few ways that your text relates to or anticipates the gospel (i.e. the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, repentance, forgiveness of sins)? Which of these ways best fits your text? [Consider Old Testament citations/allusions as well as different methods of connecting such as typology, analogy, promise-fulfillment, biblical theological themes, and others.]”

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”–Romans 5:6-9;

 6. In once sentence, what is the author’s aim for his audience in this text? Given that aim, what implication(s) and/or application(s) for your audience would you draw out in your sermon?”


 Just as Jesus welcomes sinners, so does the Father (15:2, 32).

 Possible application by extension: It is possible for the Christian to be unforgiving to the unrighteous just as the Pharisees and scribes were to the tax collectors and sinners.

“On the back of this page and for your own benefit, you can sketch out a homiletical outline that you might use for the text.”

 Jesus welcomes sinners (the lost)


  1. LOST! The First Lost Son
    1. The Scandal of the Lost
      1. A sheep is expected get lost
        1. Its return is celebrated
      2. A coin might easily be lost
        1. Finding it is cause of celebration
      3. But An unrighteous son is at fault
        1. He is the cause of shame
        2. He is the cause of loss
        3. He Deserves what he get
        4. Cultural matters for clarification when teaching
          1. The shock of the Father (God) having TWO son
          2. The impropriety of requesting an early inheritance
          3. The similarity between the son’s herding hogs and the tax collectors’ liaison with Rome
    2. FOUND! The finding of the Lost
      1. For all his faults, the lost son returns
      2. Cultural matters: the dignity of the Father is compromised upon the son’s return
    3. REJOICE! [inclusio]: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
    1. LOST! The Second Son is a Lost Son
    2. FOUND! The Father Seeks the Lost Son
      1. To be Lost is to be Dead; To be Found is to Be Alive
      2. Being lost is marked by self-righteousness
      3. Being lost is marked by unthankfulness
      4. Being lost is marked by unforgiveness
      5. My Son is Your Brother [Inclusio: 24 & 31] The Father Has Two Sons [inclusio]: “for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
    3. REJOICE??


The Father Welcomes the lost Son (sinners), so how can the elder son refuse to do the same? We aren’t told what the “elder son” does.


The New Atheism?

I wonder why atheism is now called “the new atheism.” Is there new evidence, or might it be that the old atheism is simply a failure? When you attempt to prove the existence of non-existnece, the burden of proof gets pretty demanding.

I think it’s a whistle-in-the-dark kind of marketing scheme. Sells books, anyway.