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I.               Introduction


Two little parables introduce this long and easy to remember parable. The introductory parables teach us to look at the repentant sinner the way God does. We are overjoyed to recover a lost animal. We tell our friends when we find a lost item that meant a lot to us. So God and His angels rejoice when a sinner repents and receives forgiveness of his sins.


1.     Youngest children: they should see that God gladly forgives us our sins. He is the father who rushes out to meet his son on the road.

2.     Grade school children: they have a better sense of needing forgiveness (the Prodigal), and also being self-righteous (the Elder Brother). They should place themselves in both situations as they learn about this. Anyone with brothers and sisters can understand the Elder Brother attitude. They should see how God the Father is forgiving toward the bad brother and gentle with the unforgiving older brother.

3.     Confirmation age students will see additional details in the parable, such as the Prodigal causing his own problems (riotous living), the meaning of godly repentance (not just sorry for being caught), the loving nature of God, the pouting of the older brother, (“this son of yours”), and God’s patient, loving answer to the little Pharisee.




Luke 15:11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.


Elder Brother

25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.


Who are the characters?

1.     The Prodigal Son is the person who alienates himself from God by disobeying the 10 Commandments.

2.     The Father is our heavenly Father, who welcomes repentance and fills heaven with joy over one person who sees his sin and asks for forgiveness. He also warns the Pharisee in all of us.

3.     The Elder Brother is the person who is righteous in his own eyes, because of his hard work. He is unforgiving toward his repentant brother, so he does not understand the Gospel or believe it.


The story.


The parable is a short story with a plot, like the Good Samaritan. The prodigal demands his inheritance early and takes off for the big city. He soon spends it all foolishly, in riotous living. Pigs were considered very lowly, dirty animals for the Jews. They could not eat any pork products because of Old Testament kosher laws. The younger son has to herd pigs to make a living, and he is so broke and hungry that he wants to eat the carob pods they eat. (Carob is used to make fake chocolate.) But he is given nothing and starves while eyeing those pigs. No one wants to envy pigs wallowing in the mud.


The brother’s sad situation wakes him up. He has served himself and made himself lonely, hungry, poor, and envious of pigs. He can do better as an ordinary servant in his father’s home. He is not just making a move to fill his belly. He confesses that he has sinned against heaven and his father with his foolishness. This is true sorrow for sin. Breaking the commandments is a sin against God and man. Phony contrition is being sorry for getting caught.


The brother returns. His father sees him at a great distance, rushes to meet him, hugs and kisses him. Many parents with lost children would welcome their return. Yet others would sulk inside the home and berate their children, even when they are truly sorry for their sins. God welcomes true repentance, which includes both sorrow for sin and faith in the Gospel.


The son confesses that he has sinned and is not worthy to be called a son. He does not take advantage of forgiveness. He asks for nothing but forgiveness and knows he is not worthy. No deals. No transactions.


The father cannot contain his joy. He does not browbeat his foolish son for the money lost. He holds a feast and invites everyone to enjoy the celebration. The son is restored with a ring and a robe. He was dead and is alive again. That is a key statement. The lost sinner is dead to God but made alive through forgiveness.


Romans 6:11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.


If we are alive to sin, we make ourselves dead to God. Christ makes us alive to God, so we might be dead to sin.


The elder brother is working when all the commotion begins, so he asks what is happening. His long lost brother is back and he refuses to come in from work. He is not happy but angry. We can imagine his thoughts. We do not have to. He soon tells his father.


The father is compassionate toward the self-righteous elder brother as well. He goes out to the field to ask what the problem is. He soon finds out. The elder brother has NEVER broken a commandment and has served him for years.


Modern translation: “This son of yours (no longer my brother) consumed your estate on slow horses and fast women, even though I was always here and never sinned in any way whatsoever. You never did anything for me and my friends, but when this no-good came home, you killed my 4-H calf and held a feast in his honor!”


The father replies with patience, even though anger is deserved. The older brother is unloving, unforgiving, self-righteous, and a genuine pain in the neck. He cannot crack a smile because his own flesh and blood is home again. Every he says is blaming and self-congratulatory.


The older brother is assured that everything is his already. Then the key statement is repeated. The parable ends with hope and joy. Your brother was lost and is found, dead and now is alive.




1.     Identify the three characters in the parable.

2.     How often do we see examples of the Prodigal Son?

3.     What is true repentance?

4.     How does God receive the repentant sinner? How does it make you feel to think of God rushing down the road to hug and kiss you, to give you a ring and a robe, and throw a feast?

5.     Do we deserve to be treated so well in forgiveness?

6.     Who makes us worthy to be treated so well?

7.     How often do we act like the older brother?

8.     How does the older brother give away his true nature? (Angry, blaming, refusing to celebrate, disowning his brother, claiming a complete lack of sin, comparing his lack of parties to that of his no-good brother)

9.     What is God’s answer?

10.  Does His answer at the very end make us more forgiving? What phrase in the Lord’s Prayer fits this parable?



Luke 15:11-32


"Christian righteousness is the forgiveness of sin, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ and acceptance to eternal life. It is free, not the result of any virtues or works but is given solely because of Christ, the Mediator, and apprehended by faith alone."

            David Chytraeus, A Summary of the Christian Faith (1568), trans., R.  Dinda, Decatur:  Repristination Press, 1994. p. 106.

"Scripture therefore uses these words, 'We are justified by faith,' to teach both: 1) What the reason (or merit) for justification is, or what the blessings of Christ are; to wit, that through and for the sake of Christ alone we are granted forgiveness of sins, righteousness and eternal life; and 2. How these should be applied or transferred to us; namely, by embracing the promise and relying on Christ by faith alone."

            David Chytraeus, A Summary of the Christian Faith (1568),  Decatur:  Repristination Press, 1994. p. 107.


 "All preaching of sin and God's wrath is a preaching of the Law, no matter how or when it may be done.  On the other hand, the Gospel is such preaching as sets forth and bestows nothing but grace and forgiveness in Christ. And yet it is true that the Apostles and preachers of the Gospel sanctioned the preaching of the Law, as Christ Himself did, and began with this in the case of those who had not yet acknowledged their sins and had felt no fear of God's anger."

             Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1983, IV,  p. 158. Luke 5:1-11.


Gospel without Law

"If remission of sins without repentance is preached, the people imagine that they have already forgiveness of sins, and thereby they are made secure and unconcerned.  This is a greater error and sin than all error of former times, and it is verily to be feared that we are in that danger which Christ points out when He says, Matthew 12:45:  'The last state of that man shall be worse than the first.'"

            C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau, St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 123. Matthew 12:45.


Only Goal of Pastors:

To Be Faithful to the Word of God

"Now, the Lord in this passage speaks, in particular, of preachers or prophets, whose real and proper fruit is nothing else that this, that they diligently proclaim this will of God to the people and teach them that God is gracious and merciful and has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but wants him to live, moreover, that God has manifested His mercy by having His only-begotten Son become man.  Whoever, now, receives Him and believes in Him, that is, whoever takes comfort in the fact for the sake of His Son, God will be merciful to him, will forgive his sins, and grant him eternal salvation, etc.,--whoever is engaged in this preaching of the pure Gospel and thus directs men to Christ, the only Mediator between God and men, he, as a preacher, is doing the will of God.  That is the genuine fruit by which no is deceived or duped."

            C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau, St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 413. Matthew 7:21.