Saving Your Legacy: Influencing Your Prodigal
Ever hear the story of the Prodigal Pig? It goes like this:
There was a man who had two son
And loved them for they were his own.
The younger said, “Dad, I want my estate,
I think that I’m now fully grown.”
The son left home, went far away,
And spent all he had living high.
A famine then hit and low and behold,
He found himself in a pigsty.
The young man soon came to himself.
He turned to a piggy and said,
“Let’s get out of here and go to my dad.
He’ll see that we’re warm and well-fed.”
The father saw them from afar.
He ran and received them with glee.
He kissed his son, gave the pig a big hug,
And washed them as clean as can be.
He tied a bow around pig’s neck,
And placed a gold ring in his nose.
The father put shoes upon his son’s feet
And gave him a new set of clothes.
Both son and pig sat down to eat.
The boy became full as a tick.
But each time the food was passed to the pig
He cried out, “I’m gonna be sick!
There’s no way I can eat this stuff.
The lack of mud’s drying my skin.
The ring in my nose is just killing me.
I’m going back home to my pen.”
A son may run from his father,
Waste all to try making it big.
He will not stay in the pigsty because
A son is a son, not a pig.
Take care how you judge another,
‘Cause they appear good or look bad.
The one clean may be pig on his way home,
The muddy one, running to dad.
I love that last line: The muddy one, running to dad. That paints a real picture in my mind of a guy who’s so ready just to get home, no matter what pride he has to swallow or what retribution he has to face.
And I dare say that there are some of you here this morning that have been eating a little mud of your own. In a way, you could say that you’ve been keeping hogs. What I mean is, like this prodigal son, you’ve been running from God and from your responsibility. You know it! In fact you’ve known it for a long time, but you were having enough fun to silence the ache in your soul. But now the famine has come. The bill for the pleasure you bought on the credit card of delayed justice has come due, and you sit by the pigpen of life, craving pig food. And you feel utterly alone and abandoned today. Will you hear what Christ has to say today? There is a way to go home. You don’t have to keep the hogs anymore! Today could start the journey of restoration in your life.
Others of you are not keeping hogs, you’re keeping appearances. If you would be honest this morning, you know you’ve got a budding prodigal at home. The evidence is there. You didn’t mean to raise one, in fact, you don’t see how your child could be going down the road he is taking. You tried to do your best and do everything right, but in spite of all that you’ve done, your kids are “going south.” But you are stuffing your fingers in your ears and refusing to admit the truth. I want you to listen. I want to show you what some of the signs of raising or being a prodigal are.
And then there are those here who are keeping watch. What I mean is that you have a prodigal and you know it. You spend many hours with a heavy heart, weeping and praying for that son or daughter who, though they may not have a lot of money, is still spending everything. They are spending their purity to seek sexual pleasure; they’re spending their health to seek a drug-induced euphoria; they’re spending their reputation to get what they want, and most of all, they’re spending their future for the gratification they seek today. And meanwhile, you are keeping watch, hoping against hope that one day you’ll look up the road and see them coming back home. You’re keeping watch.
Whatever you’re condition, this parable of the prodigal speaks to you. This story of betrayal, love, and forgiveness lets us know that no matter how far your prodigal has fallen, there is hope. You really can influence your prodigal towards Christ. How can you do that? Well, there are three questions you can answer if you want to influence your prodigal toward Christ. The first question is this:
D1 - HOW DOES A PRODIGAL STRAY - 15:11-16
You can find the answer to that question in the attitudes this prodigal son exhibits. For one thing, this profligate problem of a boy was selfish. You can hear it in his voice in verse 11 of chapter 15: Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ Notice the demand of this lad: “Hey Dad, Give me! Give portion of your estate that is coming to me.” Now that was an incredibly selfish request primarily because of what it meant to make it. When this young man asks for his inheritance, he was in essence telling his dad to drop dead. He was saying, “Dad, I know you’re not dead yet, but I want to treat you like you’re dead; Give me what I’ve got coming.” He was incredibly selfish.
And he was filled with selfishness and he was also filled with short-sightedness. You’ll notice that the father complies with the demand. The Bible says in v12, “So he divided to them his livelihood. Literally, the word, “livelihood” is his life. The son requests a portion of what his father’s life will leave him. As one writer said, He doesn’t take into account the blood, sweat, and tears his father invested to get what he has. That’s why he converts the property to cash. He doesn’t even consider that, if he would just hold on to the property, it would be worth more later. The Bible says “he gathers everything together” and takes off. He has an attitude of selfishness and short-sightedness.
And then he pursues separation. The Bible says he goes to a far country. Perhaps he wants to get away where no one knows him and can call him on his sin. Perhaps he wants to get to a place where he will not feel guilty with his father looking over his shoulder, but, whatever the reason, he separates from his family.
And the reason is so that he can pursue sensuality and sin. The end of 15:13 says that he “wasted his possessions with prodigal living. The word for “waste” pictures someone tossing ones possessions into the wind. That’s what a prodigal does: Because he is selfish and short-sighted, the prodigal separates himself into a position that he or she can pursue their own pleasure with complete abandon.
I met him when I was a youth pastor. He was a handsome boy with a gregarious personality, but I could tell something was not right. I knew it on one of the first youth trips I went on with him. I don’t remember a lot that happened, but I just remember that, when we got back pretty late and we were waiting for his parents to pick him up, I saw him in the parking lot throwing something. Thinking it might be rocks and that he might bust out a windshield or a street lamp, walked over to him and asked him what he was throwing. He said, “I’m throwing quarters.”
Well, that got my attention! It was dark. It wasn’t like he could even see where they were so that he could pick them up, he was just standing there in the parking lot throwing money away because he just felt like it. That’s the attitude of a prodigal: He’s a waster. His philosophy is if I want to do it, I’m gonna do it, and you can’t stop me.
By the way, though I didn’t know him that night, I got to know him very well. Throwing quarters wasn’t his greatest vice. By the time he quit school at 16, he had already been in trouble with the law. He was one of the few teenagers I ever pastored who ended up in jail. That’s what happens to prodigals. They stray because they are selfish, shortsighted, separated and sensual.
So let me ask you, do you see yourself in this picture? Do you see your child or some other family member in this picture? What about when it comes to selfishness? Listen, if you are a prodigal you are selfish. You have this focus on yourself that has caused you to put everything you desire ahead of the all important relationships of life. If you are a teenager, is the desire to have what you want destroying the parents that love you?
I still remember one of the saddest moments in my life. It was my sophmore year in high school and I was sneaking around behind my parents’ back and smoking. (I know it was a stupid thing to do, and I am so glad I never was addicted to them). Anyway, my parents found me out and my dad confronted me. He asked me if I intended to continue and I said “Yes.” I know it upset my folks because as I was going out the door to school, my mom stopped me and with tears in her eyes said, “Son, I’m praying for you.” It was like a knife was stabbed into my heart, but I was so focused on what I wanted that I hardened my heart and kept on walking. Hey! That’s what prodigals do, and teenager, if you are hurting your parents and hardening your heart, congratulations. You qualify. You’re a prodigal!
And what about short-sightedness? I see this in prodigals all the time. Listen! Prodigals at school don’t try to get good grades because they’d rather fit in with their friends, even though it ditches any plan to get into college in the future, they just want to fit in now. Prodigals in relationships are so short-sighted that they will push things to the limit and beyond to win an argument, no matter who gets hurt or what relationships get ruined. Prodigals at work are willing to argue with their bosses even if it hurts their advancement or even costs them their job. They are short-sighted.
And all of this leads to the attitude of separation. If you are a prodigal this morning your selfish, short-sightedness has caused you to pursue your own way and shut yourself off from your family. You don’t really care to be around mom and dad because you don’t want that loving scrutiny they bring. Your love for them has been eclipsed by your love for yourself and what you want. If you have a prodigal this morning you feel this separation. If they still live under your roof, it’s only a convenience for them, not any fellowship for you. There heart is in the far country and there’s a wall between you.
And what is the goal that has led to this distance? It is the pursuit of the prodigal’s sin and sensuality. If you are a prodigal, the allure of pleasure has charmed you. It may the temporary euphoria of drugs, the numbing effects of alcohol, the disappointing pleasure of illicit sex, the destructive pursuit of pornography, or just the elusive quest to be accepted by your new “friends.” Whatever it is, your sin is slowly taking over and ruining your life. If you have a prodigal, you’re beginning to notice that they are ditching you and their family. They stay in their room a lot and you aren’t quite sure what they’re doing. In fact, there is this little alarm going off in your heart and you suspect that they may be doing some things that could hurt them. You have a prodigal on your hands.
And how do you handle a prodigal? Well, the restoration of a prodigal begins by answering that question, “How does a prodigal stray?” and then you can answer this question:
DIV 2: HOW DOES A PRODIGAL RETURN?
I’m so glad we have this parable! Jesus rolls back the curtain on what it takes to return to the Father here. Now this is important for a couple of reasons. You see, we are all prodigals in one sense. Isaiah said it like this, All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, everyone, to his own way, And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. This story tells us how all of us can come home to our heavenly father.
And in that picture there is also another reason this story is important. It also shows us what to look for as a parent who has a prodigal. How do you know that a prodigal has really repented and returned? There are several things to look for. Notice what happened with this prodigal in the story.
First, he hit bottom. For a Jew, sitting in a pig pen envying pig food was about as low as it got. That’s why, I believe, Jesus’ story shows this guy in the pig pen. He is trying to tell us that this guy got to the very bottom. But I dare say there are very few of our prodigals who will actually end up feeding pigs, so just how do you tell if your prodigal is “at the bottom?” Well, there are several things you can see in this prodigal’s predicament: First he recognized a need he could not meet. v 14 says, But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. This guy spent everything he had. He had nothing left. He was without anything. You know your prodigal is at the bottom when he runs out of his own resources. By the way, if you are a prodigal this morning. You may be here because this is precisely the case for you. You came to church this morning because you absolutely recognize that you have nowhere else to turn. You have a need you can’t meet.
And I know this guy hit bottom because he begins to recognize a loneliness he can’t stand. There is a very poignant phrase at the end of v 16. It says, and no one gave him anything. He used to be the father’s son. From the story we can surmise that his father was probably pretty well-to-do. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but now he has nothing and he has no one. And there enters into his heart a deep loneliness.
And I think there was something else that begins to come to this guy in the pigpen. He not only sees a need he cannot meet and a loneliness he cannot stand, he begins to recognize a God that he cannot beat. By the way, who do you think allowed that famine to come just at the right moment? Somehow in the mud of that smelly hog pen, he begins to see that the one he’s been fighting against is not his earthly dad, but his heavenly Father. He’s hit the bottom.
And that’s what has to happen to a prodigal. He must recognize that the one he’s fighting is God and that this is a fight he absolutely cannot win! When that happens, he will not only hit bottom, he will wake up. That’s what happens next: He begins to see his situation for what it really is. Notice v 17: The verse begins,“But when he came to himself . . . That is so important! We know that it is because of what he goes on to say, v 17 goes on, But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! Hey! He’s finally getting it! He sees his situation for what it really is. There is a deep irony in what he says. When he speaks of his father’s “hired hands” he is speaking of a day laborer who was hired for minimal pay on a day-to-day basis. In our culture they would be the temp workers who come into work one day and don’t know if they are coming back the next. They were on the bottom of the totem pole on the estate. The prodigal says, “Even the guys back home who are at the very bottom are much better off than I am.
And when he wakes up, he begins to look up. v 18 says, I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, Notice where he starts! He starts by saying, Father I have sinned against (what? That’s right!) Heaven. I can’t emphasize this enough! If you are a prodigal, or if you have a prodigal, there must come that moment when they wake up and when they look up. This is why it is so important to pray for your prodigal. What we are after is not a 12-step reform or for our prodigals to turn over a new leaf. We must have them to come to a point of brokenness where they stop blaming anyone else for their own sin. Yes, mom and dad may have let you down; your church may have hurt you; you may think that the circumstances of your life have been unfair, but nothing will ever change until you as a prodigal stop blaming others, blame yourself and look up. It is your sin; it is your pig pen. The only way anything will change is for you to get down and look up.
And the prodigal doesn’t stop there. Not only does he hit bottom, wake up, and look up, he goes back. He returns to the father. Yes, it cost him his pride. Yes, he had to confess that he had been wrong. But this guy doesn’t wait: v20 says And he arose and came to his father . . .
And as he returned, I believe, he not only hit bottom, woke up, looked up, and went back, he also let go. He doesn’t return to his father with his list of demands. He didn’t say, “Ok, dad, I’ll come back home, but I want my room back, and I don’t want a curfew.” Look at what he says: I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” This guy let go of all claims he may have thought he had. He says, “Dad, if you’ll just let me be one of those temp workers, it’ll be more than I could even ask.
This must be the attitude of the returning prodigal. If you are a prodigal this morning, I want you to know that coming back to God or trying to repair your relationship with your parents cannot be done with a list of demands. You must be completely broken. I don’t care if you do think your parents did some things wrong. It doesn’t matter. They will have to deal with the Lord themselves. Your only concern is your wrong. You must let go.
And parents, if you have a prodigal, half-way repentance will not cut it. Don’t be satisfied with half way efforts and partial promises. If you have a prodigal, what you must pray for is complete brokenness, no matter what it takes.
As Brazilian jail cells go this one wasn’t too bad. There was a fan on the table. The twin beds each had a thin mattress and a pillow. There was a toilet and a sink.
No, it wasn’t too bad. But, then again, I didn’t have to stay.
Anibal did. He was there to stay.
Even more striking than his name (pronounced “uh-nee-ball”) was the man himself. The tattooed anchor on his forearm symbolized his personality—cast-iron. His broad chest stretched his shirt. The slightest movement of his arm bulged his biceps. His face was as leathery in texture as it was in color. His glare could blister a foe. His smile was an explosion of white teeth.
But today the glare was gone and the smile was forced. Anibal wasn’t on the street where he was the boss; he was in a jail where he was the prisoner.
He’d killed a man—a “neighborhood punk,” as Anibal called him, a restless teenager who sold marijuana to the kids on the street and made a nuisance of himself with his mouth. One night the drug dealer had used his mouth one time too many and Anibal had decided to silence it. He’d left the crowded bar where the two of them had been arguing, gone home, taken a pistol out of a drawer, and walked back to the bar. Anibal had entered and called the boy’s name. The drug dealer had turned around in time to take a bullet in the heart.
Anibal was guilty. Period. His only hope was that the judge would agree that he had done society a favor by getting rid of a neighborhood problem. He would be sentenced within the month.
I came to know Anibal through a Christian friend, Daniel. Anibal had lifted weights at Daniel’s gym. Daniel had given Anibal a Bible and had visited him several times. This time Daniel took me with him to tell Anibal about Jesus.
Our study centered on the cross. We talked about guilt. We talked about forgiveness. The eyes of the murderer softened at the thought that the one who knows him best loves him most. His heart was touched as we discussed heaven, a hope that no executioner could take from him.
But as we began to discuss conversion, Anibal’s face began to harden. The head that had leaned toward me in interest now straightened in caution. Anibal didn’t like my statement that the first step in coming to God is an admission of guilt. He was uneasy with words like “I’ve been wrong” and “forgive me.” Saying “I’m sorry” was out of character for him. He had never backed down before any man, and he wasn’t about to do it now—even if the man were God.
In one final effort to pierce his pride, I asked him, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”
“Sure,” he grunted.
“Are you ready?”
Earlier he might have boasted yes, but now he’d heard too many verses from the Bible. He knew better.
He stared at the concrete floor for a long time, meditating on the question. For a moment I thought his stony heart was cracking. For a second, it appeared that burly Anibal would for the first time admit his failures.
But I was wrong. The eyes that lifted to meet mine weren’t tear-filled; they were angry. They weren’t the eyes of a repentant prodigal; they were the eyes of an angry prisoner.
“All right,” he shrugged. “I’ll become one of your Christians. But don’t expect me to change the way I live.”
The conditional answer left my mouth bitter. “You don’t draw up the rules,” I told him. “It’s not a contract that you negotiate before you sign. It’s a gift—an undeserved gift! But to receive it, you have to admit that you need it.”
“OK.” He ran his thick fingers through his hair and stood up. “But don’t expect to see me at church on Sundays.”
I sighed. How many knocks in the head does a guy need before he’ll ask for help?
As I watched Anibal pace back and forth in the tiny cell, I realized that his true prison was not made of bricks and mortar, but of pride. He was twice imprisoned. Once because of murder, and once because of stubbornness. Once by his country, and once by himself.
And some of us can relate to Anibal. O we may not be in prison for murder, but we have that same pride. Even sitting in the pig pen of our sin and realizing we need help, we still resist brokenness. Parents, you may recognize that attitude in your child. You want like everything to help them, but you realize you can’t do anything until they are broken, and you don’t know what to do. Well, that’s our last question. You see, if you’re going to see your prodigal restored, not only must you ask, How does a prodigal leave? and How does a prodigal return?, you must also ask,
DIV 3 WHAT CAN A PARENT DO?
As I was preparing for this message I ran across these unanswered questions of Martina Phillips, a mother who has a wayward son whom she has not seen for 4 years:
She has “how” questions: She asks: How does a parent, who has prayed daily, deal with the rebellion of a child? How does a loving parent accept the rejection of her offspring? How does a parent keep from giving up hope? How does a parent resist envy and bitterness when other people's children progress?
She asks why: Why does free will have to take us so far from God? Why is it so hard to accept that this might be part of the Master's plan? Why do the happy parents never ask about the unhappy ones? Why do children see loving parents as their enemies? Why are these children choosing the wrong path first? Why are they so selfish?
She asks where: Where is all of this chaos going? Where are the answers? Where is the glimmer of hope? Where are the others who are needed to walk alongside? Where can a parent find comfort? Where does a parent learn to understand this pain? Where do the tears go that are shed for these wayward children?
And she asks what: What is the parent of a wayward child to do? What does a parent do to dispel her fears? What next? What can I say? What can I do?
Now let’s just admit up front that the parent in this story stands for our heavenly Father. By the way, let’s just start by saying that having a prodigal may not have anything to do with your ability to be a parent. I think our heavenly Father is a great Father, yet He has lots of prodigal children. And that just leads me to the first lesson we can learn about parenting a prodigal from this story. First, a good parent swallows their pride. v 20 says of the father, But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. The father in this story has evidently been watching anxiously for his son every day. When he sees him, the father runs to meet him. That is significant. In that culture, persons of this father’s stature did not run. It was considered undignified. This father has long since stopped worrying about his pride. He runs to meet his son. Parents listen! I know that prodigal of yours has hurt you. I know you want to string him or her up sometimes. But if they come to you in brokenness, don’t let your pride or your desire to punish them turn you from them. Swallow your pride
And then, communicate genuine love. I love v 20 because it says that the Father runs to meet the prodigal, and, when he gets to him, the Father is so overcome with joy that he fell on his neck and kissed him. This scene reminds me of some of the pictures we’ve seen over the last few years of war veterans coming home after a long separation from their families. There is this open display of affection.
You know what? I think that this son knew his father’s heart. I think he rather suspected that His dad would receive him. That’s why he was willing to go home. Does your prodigal know that? Does he or she know that you have that kind of loving heart? Are they confident that, if they are willing to return, you are willing to receive them. You see, I believe your influence with your prodigal begins with you swallowing your pride and communicating your genuine love.
But that’s not all: This father swallows his pride and communicates love and that love causes him to restore his son completely. You see this in what the father says in v 22: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. These three actions of the father show us complete restoration. When he tells his servants to bring out the “best” robe, it is possible for that word to be translated “former.” In other words, the father says, “He used to wear the robe of my son. Bring out that robe because I want him to be restored to his place of relationship.
He says next to “put a ring on his hand.” That symbolizes that he has been restored to his place of authority.
The shoes were a sign that a man was a freeman and not a slave. In the Master’s house, shoes were worn by the master, but not by guests who would take them off when they arrived. The shoes show that he has been restored to his place of possession. The Father immediately and completely restores his son. What about you parents? When your prodigal returns in brokenness, can you immediately restore his place of relationship, authority, and position? Can you completely restore him.
I think I like this last one the best. This father doesn’t just swallow pride, communicate love and restore completely, he celebrates the return. The scripture says, And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
How unlike us! So often our prodigals return and we make them do penance. We’re constantly reminding them of how badly they failed and how they let us down. We heap guilt on them. Not this father! He celebrates!
Now understand, there must be genuine brokenness and repentance. But when there is that repentance, our response is to be celebration, not recrimination
The flame in the eyes had been extinguished. The smirk had been humbled. The devil-may-care attitude had been replaced with soberness. His first few days of destitution were likely steamy with resentment. He was mad at everyone. Everyone was to blame. His friends shouldn’t have bailed out on him. And his brother should come and bail him out. His boss should feed him better, and his dad never should have let him go in the first place.
He named a pig after each one of them. Failure invites finger pointing and buck passing. A person may be out of money, out of a job, and out of friends, but he is never out of people to blame. Sometimes it’s the family:
But this was different. Something told this wayward son that this was the moment of—and for—truth. He looked into the water. The face he saw wasn’t pretty—muddy and swollen. He looked away. “Don’t think about it. You’re no worse off than anybody else. Things will get better tomorrow.”
The lies anticipated a receptive ear. They’d always found one before. “Not this time,” he muttered. And he stared at his re- flection.“How far I have fallen.” His first words of truth.
He looked into his own eyes. He thought of his father. “They always said I had your eyes.” He could see the look of hurt on his father’s face when he told him he was leaving.
“How I must have hurt you.”
A crack zigzagged across the boy’s heart. A tear splashed into the pool. Another soon followed. Then another. Then the dam broke. He buried his face in his dirty hands as the tears did what tears do so well; they flushed out his soul.
His face was still wet as he sat near the pool. For the first time in a long time he thought of home. The memories warmed him. Memories of dinner-table laughter. Memories of a warm bed. Memories of evenings on the porch with his father as they listened to the hypnotic ring of the crickets.
“Father.” He said the word aloud as he looked at himself. “They used to say I looked like you. Now you wouldn’t even recognize me. Boy, I blew it, didn’t I?” He stood up and began to walk.
The road home was longer than he remembered. When he last traveled it, he turned heads because of his style. If he turned heads this time, it was because of his stink. His clothes were torn, his hair matted, and his feet black. But that didn’t bother him, because for the first time in a calendar of heartaches, he had a clean conscience.
He was going home. He was going home a changed man. Not demanding that he get what he deserved, but willing to take whatever he could get. “Give me” had been replaced with “help me,” and his defiance had been replaced with repentance.
He came asking for everything with nothing to give in return. He had no money. He had no excuses. And he had no idea how much his father had missed him. He had no idea the number of times his father had paused between chores to look out the front gate for his son.
As the boy came around the bend that led up to his house, he rehearsed his speech one more time.
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” He approached the gate and placed his hand on the latch. He began to lift it, then he paused. His plan to go home suddenly seemed silly. “What’s the use?” he heard himself asking himself. “What chance do I have?” He ducked, turned around, and began to walk away.
Then he heard the footsteps. He heard the slap, slap, slap of sandals. Someone was running. He didn’t turn to look. It’s prob-ably a servant coming to chase me away or my big brother wanting to know what I’m doing back home. He began to leave.
But the voice he heard was not the voice of a servant nor the voice of his brother; it was the voice of his father.
He turned to open the gate, but the father already had. The son looked at his father standing at the entrance. Tears glistened on his cheeks as arms stretched from east to west inviting the son to come home.
“Father, I have sinned.” The words were muffled as the boy buried his face in his father’s shoulder.
The two wept. For a forever they stood at the gate intertwined as one. Words were unnecessary. Repentance had been made, forgiveness had been given.
The boy was home.