The world divides into two camps – sinners and slaves.
The sinners love freedom. The slaves love respect. The sinners opt out of the system to discover themselves. The slaves opt in to prove themselves.
When sinners are upset they riot or hold protest rock concerts. When slaves are upset they write stern letters to the Daily Mail. And both groups are absolutely certain that the other side is the real problem with the world.
Which are you more like? We’re usually a combination – but we’re a combination of these two options. Which do you lean towards? Sinner or slave? Opt out or opt in? Freedom or respect? Rule-breaker or rule-maker?
Well these two kinds of people surrounded Jesus in Luke 15 and they responded in very different ways to the grace of Christ:
“Then drew near unto Jesus all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)
Do you see the two groups? Sinners on the one hand, slaves on the other.
And how do they respond? The sinners draw near, they hear Him and Jesus receives them and eats with them. The slaves are livid. They grumble and remain at a distance.
Well Jesus speaks His most famous parable to this audience. And He begins in verse 11:
“A certain man had two sons…”
As the story progresses we see that the younger son is a sinner while the older son is a slave. And the punchline of the story? The sinner (the prodigal) gets welcomed home to the feast while the slave remains outside, grumbling.
Do you see the parallel? The parable is about the two different responses to Jesus. One kind of person rejoices in reconciliation, the other is embittered in self-righteousness.
All of which makes us realise that “the Prodigal Son” is a poor title for the parable. For many reasons. Firstly, there are two sons. And both reactions to the grace of Christ are vital to understand. But secondly, the sons are not the focus. The prodigal is not the hero. But neither is the elder brother. The hero is the father.
And who does the father represent? Well he is the one who “receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” He is the one against whom the slaves grumble. The father represents Jesus.
It is common to hear the father of the parable identified as God the Father. But that would make this parable a story of Christ-less reconciliation. It also fails to take the context of Luke 15 seriously. In verses 1 and 2 it is Jesus who stands in the middle between sinners and slaves. It is His grace that splits His hearers.
And then He tells three stories in Luke 15 to explain the responses of sinners and slaves. From verse 3 He’s like a shepherd finding a lost sheep. From verse 8 He’s like a woman finding a lost coin. From verse 11 He’s like a father finding a lost son. He’s not actually a shepherd. He’s not actually a woman. He’s not actually a dad. But He’s making the same point three different ways: I am for the lost, I am for the lost, I am for the lost.
As we consider the parable over the next few days let’s be aware of the major players. The younger son is a sinner, the older son is a slave, but the star of the show is the Man who receiveth sinners and eateth with them. Jesus really is the heart of all things.
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