Man with arms spread wide | Lessons from the prodigal son parable

7 Lessons From The Prodigal Son Parable In The Bible

The parable of the Prodigal Son, is one most of us are familiar with, at least in passing. At some point we’ve heard a sermon on the prodigal son, or done a Bible study on the Prodigal son, or perhaps stumbled upon it while reading your Bible. You remember the story of an older son and a younger son, the younger’s rebellion and wild living, and the mercy of their father when the rebellious son returns. But there is so much to learn about God’s love from the story of the prodigal son. 

The return of the prodigal son is a picture of God’s unconditional love, through the actions of the father. This parable reveals so much of is so much about his undeserved love, great mercy, and scandalous grace toward this prodigal son.  Often we find sermons comparing our stories to the prodigal, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is so much more to this story.  

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The Prodigal Son In The Bible

To set the stage, Jesus tells this parable just shortly before his crucifixion. In the culture of the day, this parable was surprising at best, scandalous would perhaps be an even better description of the emotions the audience hearing Jesus’s words had.  

In our modern, American culture this parable has been watered down from the original story so let’s take a minute to dive into the verse and the context. 

The whole city is pregnant with anticipation, this could be the Messiah. The one foretold. There have been miracles- dead girls awakened, lepers healed, lame walking, blind seeing, incurable healed, hearts changed, captives set free, and part of this crowd is filled with this hope, this anticipation as they listen. Jesus doesn’t teach like anyone they have ever heard before. 

But another part of the crowd -the Pharisees- are angry that Jesus is with sinners, with the “nobodies”, the undesirables, that he touches the leapers, that he allows the little children to come near. They are already planning to kill him, he’s just days from being brutally beaten and hung on a cross. This is the backdrop to this parable. 

The parable of the prodigal son, comes in a passage of several parables about lostness, we find the parable of the lost lamb, followed by the parable of the lost coin, and finally the story of the prodigal son which was going to fly in the face of everything that was culturally acceptable, and religious traditions. 

The Prodigal Son Bible Verse

 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

This man was according to the parable well off and successful, according to the text he is a land owner, and he has two sons. The younger son came to his father, and basically looked his father in the face and said “Dad I wish you were dead,”. Can you hear the audience Jesus is speaking to gasp in horror? Our stomach perhaps churns as we think of how this poor father must have felt. What this son just said wasn’t done in their culture. Children were taught to honor and respect their parents. This son comes and tells his father he cares more about his father’s money than he does a relationship with his father. 

He knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. He wants a life without the father. And so his father gives him his portion and he leaves. But what the prodigal son doesn’t realize is what he is running from, he will spend the rest of his life trying to get back to. 

The word prodigal in this passage means to live outside the protective covering. To go out from under the protective covering. To come out of protective custody. 

In Jewish society, pigs were considered unclean animals, and so the job of feeding pigs would have been as low as he could get. There was nothing so vile as this. But believe it or not, he’s not the one suffering in this passage. It’s His parents who are back home wondering where he is. Is he safe?

We can only imagine the pain of this father watching his younger son, his pride and joy so far from the place he had raised him, turning his back on his heritage, his family, and the way he had been raised. Squandering what he’d been given, and wasting his life. The mindset that created his request, and the misery caused by his rebellion God used as a means to facilitate his return. 

Perhaps you can relate to this father and the pain he must have been going through. As day after day, he prayed for the return of his prodigal son. And day after day those prayers went unanswered. His greatest desire is to see that wayward son coming back up the road, his eyes burning as he searches the horizon each new day in the hopes this would be the day of his son’s return.

But this father couldn’t step into the pig pen, to bring comfort where God was trying to bring conviction. This son had to reach rock bottom, so God could get a hold of his life and bring him back to the place he belonged. Back under His protective covering. If we jump in and try to rescue the prodigal, we will bring the pig pen back home with us and nothing will change. You have to get the pig pen out of the prodigal before you can get the prodigal out of the pig pen.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. 

Or perhaps we are the prodigals in the story. We’ve wandered from where we were meant to be, walked away from our calling, and found ourselves in a place we never should have been. Broken. Lost. At the end of our rope. Rock bottom with nowhere else to run… except back home. Back to the the loving father we’ve strayed from like the parable of the lost sheep.

Maybe we’ve been rehearsing that speech, trying to figure out how to clean up the mess a little. We know we don’t deserve His grace or mercy. And that keeps us away, still trying to figure out how to come back…

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:11-24 NIV

We miss so much of this parable because we take principles out of this parable that don’t do God’s grace justice. What we don’t understand is that in this culture there was a law that exists to this day, the Keziza. That if a Hebrew child were to ever do what this one did, and took his holy inheritance and spent it on gentiles he would be cut off, to be forever put away. 

The elders would sit in the city gate and watch for prodigals, it didn’t happen often but as the village rulers they were prepared. They would have a clay pot sitting next to them, and when that prodigal tried to return when he got within hearing distance of the judgment. They would pick up the pot and declare Keziza dropping the pot on the ground and letting it shatter. This prodigal would forever be cut off from his family, his home, and his heritage and could never return. 

In the Hebrew culture according to Levitical standards, the father of the prodigal couldn’t participate in the Keziza, the mother could come and plead for the child but the father was required to stay home. In the Middle Eastern culture, it is not only humiliating but utterly unacceptable -unthinkable even, for an elder Hebrew man who is well respected, and a property owner to run. The passage says that when he saw his son he took off running. 

His father girded up his robe exposing his nakedness -in their culture showing anything from the knee to the ankle you were considered naked. There were penalties for doing this under the Levitical process. In order to gird his robe he would have had to take off his tallit, a prayer shall, something every man would always wear. These were something that God had them make (Numbers 15:37-40), and they would wear them wherever they went. To pull up his robe he would have to take off the tallit, which would be unacceptable. 

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The son is coming home rehearsing his lines, the elders are waiting to pronounce judgment, and out of nowhere comes this boy’s father. He runs to meet his son, we can only imagine his shouts as his son grows ever nearer. “Stop! Stop!” His son stops before he comes into the judgment zone and he covers him with his tellit. Wrapping his arms around him. Why you might ask, why not go another way? Why take off the tallit, and cover his son with it?

Because it represented the Temple, it’s a portable spiritual home, once beneath it, surrounded by it, the elders couldn’t touch him because he was under the grace of God. Hidden in God’s mercy. Back beneath the protective covering. Jewish parents would sometimes wrap their sick children in their tallit believing that every prayer murmured beneath would add strength to the prayer for healing and restoration of their child. Who needed more restoration and healing than his lost child come home.

The Story Of The Prodigal Son

​At the end of this parable, the father told his servants to bring the fatted calf, see the significance is it takes time to raise that calf. This father had been preparing for his prodigal’s return long before he saw dust rising on the horizon. He fed and nurtured that calf while everyone else had given up and was ready to cut him off. He believed God would save his son and bring that prodigal back home. 

​Everything had been prepared for his son’s return, he was watching, waiting, anticipating the day when his prodigal would return. 

7 Lessons From The Story Of The Story Of The Prodigal Son

What does the parable of the Prodigal Son teach us? Well, let’s take a look at a handful of the many lessons this story can teach us. Lessons of redemption, forgiveness, and restoration:

God’s Mercy Never Ends:

The story of the prodigal son shows us that even when we are abusers of grace, and take what He has given us only to squander it, and run to places we never should have been. His mercy is greater. Because even when we are at our lowest out with the pigs. Even when we are at rock bottom and there is nowhere else to go, in that moment He still died so that we could be redeemed. 

We in this moment, in all of the ugly and undeserving, the messy, unlovable, unfixable. Right here. He stayed on that cross for you at this exact moment. 

No Matter How Far We’ve Gone The Grace Of God Is Still There:

The parable of the prodigal son reminds us that no “far country” is so distant that God’s grace can’t reach and bring us back home. His grace is complete and new every morning. And no matter how far we’ve gotten we can’t outrun His scandalous, undeserved grace. 

God’s Love For Us Doesn’t Depend on Our Faithfulness:

The parable of the prodigal son shows us that just like the father in the story, God’s love doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, decisions, or behavior. The returning son arrives at his father’s house he expects to be met with judgment, perhaps even disgust and punishment. He must have known about the law that would cut him off, and still, he chooses to return and throw himself on his father’s mercy. 

No Matter How Far Our Free Will Has Taken Us, He Will Redeem: 

The Prodigal Son shows us that no distance, no amount of brokenness, is too big for Him to redeem and write a new story. Like the father in this parable, our heavenly father is waiting to run to us and cover us in His mercy, redeeming us from the cost of our transgressions. 

Don’t Let Regret, And Fear Keep Us From Repentance:

This parable of the prodigal son teaches us to run back to our Father’s arms and not worry about coming up with the perfect lines or trying to clean ourselves up first. Your daddy is at the gate, his eyes straining to see you on your way home, his feet ready to run, arms ready to embrace you. Come home. Let Him save you. Let Him restore you. 

His Forgiveness Can’t Be Outdone:

This prodigal son didn’t deserve grace, he didn’t deserve mercy, but in the father’s great love, he forgave him. The same is true for our Heavenly Father. We don’t deserve grace, we don’t deserve forgiveness. But His love for us can not be matched, and because of that love He has mercy on us and forgives us.  

Even When We’ve Run Away, He Is waiting:

​The prodigal son shows us that even when we run away, when we get lost in the mire, and end up in places we never should have been. He’s there ready to welcome us home and cover us with His grace. 

The Parable Of The Prodigal Son

The story of the prodigal son is a powerful reminder that nothing in this world is worth more, is more fulfilling, or more rewarding than a relationship with our Heavenly Father. No bottle will fill that God-size hole. Nothing in this world can ever replace that relationship with Him. 

What the prodigal didn’t know, is that the whole time he was off in the foreign lands squandering and running, his father was waiting for him. Yearning for the day that he would be restored. Waiting with anticipation for his youngest son to come home. While he was still trying to rehearse what to say, his father was preparing the fattened calf. While he was trying to figure out how to leave the pig pen, his father was laying out his finest clothes. While he was stumbling home, broken and tired, at his very lowest, his father was waiting for him with open arms ready to hug him and restore him.

Have you been waiting to come home? Trying to figure out what to say, broken beyond measure. Come home. Your heavenly father is waiting with open arms to change your name from prodigal to redeemed. Come home. Don’t waste time trying to rehearse what to say, He already knows. He was with you in that pig pen, when you were at your most broken. When you felt the most lost. Just come home. 


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