Luke 15. 11-32 unfolds the third section of a three-part parable, the familiar story of the prodigal son’s departure from and return to his father’s house, and of the reception he finally received there. It holds many searching lessons for us, but the purpose of this article is to draw the contrast between the prodigal’s movements, and the movements of the Lord Jesus. For, like the prodigal, the Saviour left his Father’s house, dwelt for a time in a distant realm, experienced great suffering and privation there, and finally returned home again.
1. Leaving Home
In asking for his inheritance, the prodigal was implementing a long-felt desire to make a new life for himself away from home. He was weary of his father’s restrictions and requirements. So he wanted all his father would give him but he did not want his father at all. Now the Lord Jesus left His Father’s house in order to do His Father’s will. His incarnation, His lowly birth, and His earthly pathway were undertaken in whole-hearted obedience.
The prodigal’s departure caused acute suffering to his father. Throughout the day of his absence the son was ‘lost’ and ‘dead’, vv. 24, 32. No messages came home from the far country. There was no communion between father and son. The Saviour, however, left His Father’s house but not His Father’s side. His was a life of unbroken and unclouded communion with the Father, and He could say, ‘I knew that thou hearest me always’, John. 11. 42; ‘I am not alone, because the Father is with me’, John. 16. 32.
2. The Far Country
In the far country the prodigal ‘wasted his substance with riotous living’, recklessly squandering his wealth with never a thought beyond the present. In a sense, the Saviour left his wealth in heaven and lived on earth in poverty, though like His beloved apostle in later years, He was ‘as poor, yet making many rich’, 2 Cor. 6. 10. He certainly had constant access to the resources of heaven, but He never used them for His own benefit. Instead He deployed them for the blessing of needy people. And he wasted nothing – neither time nor substance nor opportunities. Indeed His ministry often reclaimed wasted lives and gave them value and purpose.
Famine overtook the far country and the prodigal. This was no part of his plans. Events beyond his control caught up with him and left him starving and destitute, feeding swine in a stranger’s field. The erstwhile wealthy popular young man became a menial farm labourer. But the sufferings which marked the Saviour’s closing days on earth were pre-meditated and intended. Far from being overtaken by events, He was implementing on earth the eternal counsels of the Godhead. Unlike those who crucified Him, He Knew exactly what He was doing. He knew in advance ‘all the things that should come upon Him’, John 18. 4, and He advanced to meet them without faltering.
Eventually the prodigal ‘came to himself, which implies that he had been living by impulse and for pleasure but was now ready to take stock. He remembered his father’s hired servants, secure and well-fed. And he knew that if he was to avoid death by starvation he must abandon his pride, set out for home and throw himself on his father’s mercy. His repentance was real enough, but self-preservation drove him on as well. The Saviour meant all along to return home by the gateway of death. He was not perishing, but millions were. He was motivated, not by His own needs but by the plight of the lost.
‘I have sinned’, said the prodigal. ‘I have glorified thee on earth’, said the Saviour. ‘1 am no more worthy to be called thy son, said the prodigal, conscience-stricken and remorseful, fearful of the reception which might await him, unsure even of crossing the threshold. ‘Glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had wit thee before the world was’, asked, the Saviour, calm in the assurance that He had brought untold delight to His Father’s heart.
The prodigal’s welcome surpassed his wildest dreams and highest hopes. He had returned home with shame, having disgraced himself and dishonoured his father. But his appalling misconduct was disregarded and his re-instatement was complete. In contrast the Saviour had experienced a dreadful forsaking in the darkness at Calvary, suffering as the sin-bearer for our guilty race. But darkness and death were followed by resurrection and exaltation. His work was acclaimed and His triumph was rewarded, ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow’, Phil. 2. 9-10.
The prodigal left no blessing behind in the far country, and took no one home with him from there. But Saviour’s short visit to this world was destined to bring immeasurable blessing throughout the nations, and He became the path-finder and the trail-blazer for myriads of pardoned sinners who have been populating heaven in increasing numbers ever since, and continue to do so.