Luke 15:24
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(24) This my son was dead.—The words, looked at merely as part of the story, have a wonderful pathos. Absence, alienation, the self-chosen shame, this had made the father think of the son as “dead.” Death would indeed have been far easier to bear. Spiritually, we are taught that repentance is nothing less than the passing from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, from the “graves of lust” (Numbers 11:34) to the power of the resurrection. The “lost” and “found” appear as furnishing the link that connects this with the preceding parables, and makes the trilogy, as it were, complete.

Luke

THE PRODIGAL AND HIS FATHER

Luke 15:11 - Luke 15:24
.

The purpose of the three parables in this chapter has to be kept in mind. Christ is vindicating His action in receiving sinners, which had evoked the murmurings of the Pharisees. The first two parables, those of the lost sheep and the lost drachma, appeal to the common feeling which attaches more importance to lost property just because it is lost than to that which is possessed safely. This parable rises to a higher level. It appeals to the universal emotion of fatherhood, which yearns over a wandering child just because he has wandered.

We note a further advance, in the proportion of one stray sheep to the ninety-nine, and of one lost coin to the nine, contrasted with the sad equality of obedience and disobedience in the two sons. One per cent., ten per cent., are bearable losses, but fifty per cent. is tragic.

I. The first part {Luke 15:11 - Luke 15:16} tells of the son’s wish to be his own master, and what came of it.

The desire to be independent is good, but when it can only be attained by being dependent on him whose authority is irksome, it takes another colour. This foolish boy wished to be able to use his father’s property as his own, but he had to get the father’s consent first. It is a poor beginning of independence when it has to be set up in business by a gift.

That is the essential absurdity in our attempts to do without God and to shake off His control. We can only get power to seem to do it by misusing His gifts. When we say, ‘Who is Lord over us?’ the tongues which say it were given us by Him. The next step soon followed. ‘Not many days after,’ of course, for the sense of ownership could not be kept up while near the father. A man who wishes to enjoy worldly good without reference to God is obliged, in self-defence, to hustle God out of his thoughts as soon and as completely as possible.

The ‘far country’ is easily reached; and it is far, though a step can land us in it. A narrow bay may compel a long journey round its head before those on its opposite shores can meet. Sin takes us far away from God, and the root of all sin is that desire of living to one’s self which began the prodigal’s evil course.

The third step in his downward career, wasting his substance in riotous living, comes naturally after the two others; for all self-centred life is in deepest truth waste, and the special forms of gross dissipation to which youth is tempted are only too apt to follow the first sense of being their own masters, and removed from the safeguards of their earthly father’s home. Many a lad in our great cities goes through the very stages of the parable, and, when a mother’s eye is no longer on him, plunges into filthy debauchery. But living which does not outrage the proprieties may be riotous all the same; for all conduct which ignores God and asserts self as supreme is flagrantly against the very nature of man, and is reckless waste.

Such a ‘merry’ life is sure to be ‘short.’ There is always famine in the land of forgetfulness of God, and when the first gloss is off its enjoyments, and one’s substance is spent, its pinch is felt. The unsatisfied hunger of heart, which dogs godless living, too often leads but to deeper degradation and closer entanglement with low satisfactions. Men madly plunge deeper into the mud in hope of finding the pearl which has thus far eluded their search.

A miserable thing this young fool had made of his venture, having spent his capital, and now being forced to become a slave, and being set to nothing better than to feed swine. The godless world is a hard master, and has very odious tasks for its bondsmen. The unclean animals are fit companions for one who made himself lower than they, since filth is natural to them and shameful for him. They are better off than he is, for husks do nourish them, and they get their fill, but he who has sunk to longing for swine’s food cannot get even that. The dark picture is only too often verified in the experience of godless men.

II. The wastrel’s returning sanity is described in Luke 15:17 - Luke 15:20.

‘He came to himself.’ Then he had been beside himself before. It is insanity to try to shake off God, to aim at independence, to wander from Him, to fling away our ‘substance,’ that is, our true selves, and to starve among the swine-troughs. He remembers the bountiful housekeeping at home, as starving men dream of feasts, and he thinks of himself with a kind of pity and amazement.

There is no sign that his conscience smote him, or that his heart woke in love to his father. His stomach, and it only, urged him to go home. He did, indeed, feel that he had been wrong, and had forfeited the right to be called a son, but he did not care much for losing that name, or even for losing the love to which it had the right, if only he could get as much to eat as one of the hired servants, whose relation to the master was less close, and, in patriarchal times, less happy, than that of slaves born in the house.

One good thing about the lad was that he did not let the grass grow under his feet, but, as soon as he had made the resolution, began to carry it into effect. The bane of many a resolve to go back to God is that it is ‘sicklied o’er’ by procrastination. The ragged prodigal has not much to leave which need hold him, but many such a one says, ‘I will arise and go to my father to-morrow,’ and lets all the to-morrows become yesterdays, and is sitting among the swine still.

Low as the prodigal’s motive for return was, the fact of his return was enough. So is it in regard to our attitude to the gospel. Men may be drawn to give heed to its invitations from the instinct of self-preservation, or from their sense of hungry need, and the belief that in it they will find the food they crave for, while there may be little consciousness of longing for more from the Father than the satisfaction of felt wants. The longing for a place in the Father’s heart will spring up later, but the beginning of most men’s taking refuge in God as revealed in Christ is the gnawing of a hungry heart. The call to all is, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat.’

III. The climax of the parable, for which all the rest is but as scaffolding, is the father’s welcome {vs. 20b-24}.

Filial love may die in the son’s heart, but paternal yearning lives in the father’s. The wanderer’s heart would be likely to sink as he came nearer the father’s tent. It had seemed easy to go back when he acted the scene in imagination, but every step homewards made the reality more difficult.

No doubt he hesitated when the old home came in sight, and perhaps his resolution would have oozed out at his finger ends if he had had to march up alone in his rags, and run the gauntlet of servants before he came to speech with his father. So his father’s seeing him far off and running to meet him is exquisitely in keeping, as well as movingly setting forth how God’s love goes out to meet His returning prodigals. That divine insight which discerns the first motions towards return, that divine pity which we dare venture to associate with His infinite love, that eager meeting the shamefaced and slow-stepping boy half-way, and that kiss of welcome before one word of penitence or request had been spoken, are all revelations of the heart of God, and its outgoings to every wanderer who sets his face to return.

Beautifully does the father’s welcome make the son’s completion of his rehearsed speech impossible. It does not prevent his expression of penitence, for the more God’s love is poured over us, the more we feel our sin. But he had already been treated as a son, and could not ask to be taken as a servant. Beautifully, too, the father gives no verbal answer to the lad’s confession, for his kiss had answered it already; but he issues instructions to the servants which show that the pair have now reached the home and entered it together.

The gifts to the prodigal are probably significant. They not only express in general the cordiality of the welcome, but seem to be capable of specific interpretations, as representing various aspects of the blessed results of return to God. The robe is the familiar emblem of character. The prodigal son is treated like the high-priest in Zechariah’s vision; his rags are stripped off, and he is clothed anew in a dress of honour. ‘Them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also sanctified.’ The ring is a token of wealth, position, and honour. It is also a sign of delegated authority, and is an ornament to the hand. So God gives His prodigals, when they come back, an elevation which unforgiven beings do not reach, and sets them to represent Him, and arrays them in strange beauty. No doubt the lad had come back footsore and bleeding, and the shoes may simply serve to keep up the naturalness of the story. But probably they suggest equipment for the journey of life. That is one of the gifts that accompany forgiveness. Our feet are shod with the preparedness of the gospel of peace.

Last of all comes the feast. Heaven keeps holiday when some poor waif comes shrinking back to the Father. The prodigal had been content to sink his sonship for the sake of a loaf, but he could not get bread on such terms. He had to be forgiven and bathed in the outflow of his father’s love before he could be fed; and, being thus received, he could not but be fed. The feast is for those who come back penitently, and are received forgivingly, and endowed richly by the Father in heaven.Luke 15:24. For this my son was dead — Was considered by me as dead; and is alive again — “It is by a very common and beautiful emblem, that vicious persons are represented as dead, both by sacred and profane authors; and the natural death of their children would be less grievous to pious parents than to see them abandoned to such a course as this young sinner took.” — Doddridge. He was lost and is found — We looked upon him as utterly lost, but lo! he is come back again, beyond all expectation, in safety. Two things here are worthy of observation: 1st, That the conversion of a soul from sin to God is the raising of that soul from death to life, and the finding of that which seemed to be lost. It is a great, wonderful, and happy change: it is like that which passes upon the face of the earth when the spring returns. 2d, The conversion of sinners is very pleasing to the God of heaven, and all that belong to his family ought to rejoice in it. Those in heaven do, and those on earth should, rejoice. And they began to be merry — They sat down to the feast, rejoicing exceedingly at the happy occasion of it.15:17-24 Having viewed the prodigal in his abject state of misery, we are next to consider his recovery from it. This begins by his coming to himself. That is a turning point in the sinner's conversion. The Lord opens his eyes, and convinces him of sin; then he views himself and every object, in a different light from what he did before. Thus the convinced sinner perceives that the meanest servant of God is happier than he is. To look unto God as a Father, and our Father, will be of great use in our repentance and return to him. The prodigal arose, nor stopped till he reached his home. Thus the repenting sinner resolutely quits the bondage of Satan and his lusts, and returns to God by prayer, notwithstanding fears and discouragements. The Lord meets him with unexpected tokens of his forgiving love. Again; the reception of the humbled sinner is like that of the prodigal. He is clothed in the robe of the Redeemer's righteousness, made partaker of the Spirit of adoption, prepared by peace of conscience and gospel grace to walk in the ways of holiness, and feasted with Divine consolations. Principles of grace and holiness are wrought in him, to do, as well as to will.Was dead - This is capable of two significations:

1. "I supposed" that he was dead, but I know now that he is alive.

2. He was "dead to virtue" - he was sunk in pleasure and vice.

The word is not unfrequently thus used. See 1 Timothy 5:6; Matthew 8:22; Romans 6:13. Hence, to be restored to "virtue" is said to be restored again to life, Romans 6:13; Revelation 3:1; Ephesians 2:1. It is probable that this latter is the meaning here. See Luke 15:32.

Was lost - Had wandered away from home, and we knew not where he was.

24. my son—now twice his son.

dead … lost—to me; to himself—to my service, my satisfaction; to his own dignity, peace, profit.

alive again … found—to all these.

merry—(See on [1677]Lu 15:10).

See Poole on "Luke 15:23" For this my son was dead,.... These words contain the reasons of the above entertainment, and of all that spiritual joy and mirth; in which the father acknowledges the returning penitent as his son; though he had behaved so wickedly before, and though he judged himself unworthy of the relation; and this he did, by sending the Spirit of adoption into his heart, to witness his sonship to him; and takes notice of his past state and condition, to show the great reason there was for joy, at his present one: for before be was "dead", dead in Adam, in whom all died; dead in law, being under a sentence of condemnation and death; and dead in trespasses and sins, which is a spiritual or moral death: in which all mankind by nature are: and which lies in a separation from God, Father, Son, and Spirit; in an alienation from the life of God; in a deformation of the image of God; in a loss of original righteousness; in the darkness of the understanding; in the inordinateness of the affections; in the pollution of the mind and conscience; in the stubbornness of the will; and in an impotency to that which is spiritually good; and in a privation of spiritual sense and motion: this had been the case, but now it was otherwise:

and is alive again: the Spirit of life from Christ had entered into him, and Christ was formed in his heart; and a principle of life was infused into him; a divine image was enstamped upon his soul; the understanding was enlightened in divine things; the affections were set upon them; the will was subjected to God, to his will and law, and to Christ and his righteousness, and the way of salvation by him, and to his commands and ordinances; and principles of grace and holiness were wrought in him, to do as well as to will; a spiritual sense of things were given him; a spiritual sight, hearing, tasting, and feeling, and savouring; he lived a life of holiness from Christ, of faith upon him, and of communion with him, and to his glory: and he came to be so, not of himself, nor by any creature; for no man can quicken himself, nor can any creature do it for him; it was entirely owing to the power and grace of God: and great reason here was for joy and mirth, as there is for every one that is quickened by the Spirit of God; for such shall never enter into condemnation, nor die again, but shall live and reign with Christ for ever:

he was lost; lost in Adam, and in himself; so he was when in the far country, and when among the swine and husks; so as that he knew not where he was, nor what a condition he was in; nor did he know how to get out of it, nor could he help himself; nor could any other creature; though not irretrievably and irrecoverably lost; not to the love of God, his knowledge of him, care and provision for him in Christ, in his counsel and covenant: hence the following mercy,

and is found; not only by Christ, in redemption, but by the Spirit of Christ in the effectual calling; when he was brought and came to himself, and saw his lost state and condition by nature; and when he was directed and brought home to his Father's house, and entertained with all the provisions of it; and such have reason to rejoice and be glad, for they shall be found in Christ at death and at judgment, and shall be with him to all eternity:

and they began to be merry: all parties. The Father expressed his joy, and the gladness of his heart, upon the return of his son to him; he exhorted to be merry on this account, Luke 15:23 and enforces it with reasons in this verse, taken from the relation he stood in to him, and the wonderful change that had passed upon him, and the finding of him; and he rejoices himself at his conversion, in the exercise of that grace which he himself implanted, and in the performance of duty by his assistance: not that any new joy arises in God's heart at such a time; for he always rejoiced in the persons of his elect, as they were the objects of his love, as chosen in Christ, and given to him, and as interested in the covenant of grace; and he rejoiced in the accomplishment of their salvation, by his Son: but in conversion, there are new expressions of joy; he rejoices over them to do them good, and rejoices in the good he does them; and this is the open beginning of his joy, and but the beginning of it; for it will continue, it is not all over, not all expressed, but will be in the fullest manner hereafter, to all eternity: the returned son began to be merry, as he had good reason for it; as that he was come back from the far country, where a mighty famine had been: and from the citizen of that country, his fields, and swine; that he was come to his father, and his father's house, where was bread enough and to spare; an house well furnished with all suitable provisions; a family made up of saints, where ministers of the Gospel are stewards, and angels guards, and where Christ is Son, priest, and master; and that he was received here, and owned as a son; not only was one secretly, but was owned as such openly; and was not only called so by the servants, but by the father himself; and that after he had behaved so vilely, and in his own conscience knew he was unworthy of the relation; and that he was received immediately, as soon as ever he came, and that in the most tender manner; and was entertained in the most free, generous, and sumptuous way; though he went away from his father of himself, and had spent his substance in a scandalous manner; and was in a most filthy, ragged, and piteous condition; and that he should be clothed with the best robe, the robe of Christ's righteousness; and so had nothing to fear from law and justice; nor was he in any danger of wrath to come because of his sins; nor had he any reason to doubt of his right and admission to the heavenly glory; and that he had the ring of love on the hand of faith, and could believe his interest in it, which is better than life, and will continue for ever; and that his feet were shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; that he understood the Gospel, and was brought to a submission to Gospel ordinances, and had his conversation agreeably to it; and that the fatted calf was killed, and set before him to eat of, and feed upon: and now he began to live and fare sumptuously, and to have spiritual joy and pleasure, which he never knew before; and this was but the beginning of joy to him: spiritual joy is not all over at once, it continues and increases; nor is it full and perfect in this life, but in heaven it will be complete, and without interruption; the servants also, the ministers of the Gospel, began to be merry on this occasion; who express their joy at the conversion of sinners, because of the glory of Father, Son, and Spirit, concerned in it; because of the grace bestowed then on sinners themselves; and because the interest of Christ is strengthened, and his churches increased, and Satan's kingdom weakened; and because their own ministry is blessed; and which strengthens their hands and hearts, and encourages them to go on in their work: and this is but the beginning of their joy; for they continue to rejoice at the growth of grace in believers, and when they are in a thriving and flourishing condition; when they walk becoming the Gospel of Christ, and live in peace among themselves; and persevere in faith and holiness to the end; and these will be their joy and crown of rejoicing, at the coming of Christ Jesus.

For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
24. was dead, and is alive again] The metaphor of ‘death’ to express the condition of impenitent sin is universal in the Bible. “Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead,” Revelation 3:1. “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,” Ephesians 5:14. “You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins,” Ephesians 2:1. “Yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead,”Romans 6:13.

was lost] This poor youth had been in the exact Roman sense perditus—a ‘lost,’ an ‘abandoned’ character.Luke 15:24. Οὗτος, this) This is a [triumphal] verse, or formula of words, and hymn, which has in it somewhat of rhythm, and seems to have been often repeated; see Luke 15:32 : it was accompanied with symphony (‘music’), Luke 15:25. The ancients used verse when strongly affected. See Genesis 37:33; 1 Chronicles 13 (12):18, [which are in the Hebraic form of poetry, parallelism.]Is alive - is found (ἀνέζησεν - εὑρέθη)

Both aorists, and pointing back to a definite time in the past; doubtless the moment when he "came to himself." Wyc., hath lived.

The Prodigal Son is a favorite subject in Christian art. The return of the penitent is the point most frequently chosen, but the dissipation in the far country and the degradation among the swine are also treated. The dissipation is the subject of an interesting picture by the younger Teniers in the gallery of the Louvre. The prodigal is feasting at a table with two courte-sans, in front of an inn, on the open shutter of which a tavern-score is chalked. An old woman leaning on a stick begs alms, possibly foreshadowing the fate of the females at the table. The youth holds out his glass, which a servant fills with wine. In the right-hand corner appears a pigsty where a stable-boy is feeding the swine, but with his face turned toward the table, as if in envy of the gay revellers there. All the costumes and other details of the picture are Dutch. Holbein also represents him feasting with his mistress, and gambling with a sharper who is sweeping the money off the table. The other points of the story are introduced into the background. Jan Steen paints him at table in a garden before an inn. A man plays the guitar, and two children are blowing bubbles - "an allegory of the transient pleasures of the spendthrift." Mrs. Jameson remarks that the riotous living is treated principally by the Dutch painters. The life among the swine is treated by Jordaens in the Dresden Gallery. The youth, with only a cloth about his loins, approaches the trough where the swine are feeding, extends his hand, and seems to ask food of a surly swineherd, who points him to the trough. In the left-hand corner a young boor is playing on a pipe, a sorrowful contrast to the delicious music of the halls of pleasure. Salvator Rosa pictures him in a landscape, kneeling with clasped hands amid a herd of sheep, oxen, goats, and swine. Rubens, in a farm-stable, on his knees near a trough, where a woman is feeding some swine. He looks imploringly at the woman. One of the finest examples of the treatment of the return is by Murillo, in the splendid picture in the gallery of the Duke of Sutherland. It is thus described by Stirling ("Annals of the Artists of Spain"): "The repentant youth, locked in the embrace of his father, is, of course, the principal figure; his pale, emaciated countenance bespeaks the hardships of his husk-coveting time, and the embroidery on his tattered robe the splendor of his riotous living. A little white dog, leaping up to caress him, aids in telling the story. On one side of this group a man and a boy lead in the farted calf; on the other appear three servants bearing a light-blue silk dress of Spanish fashion, and the gold ring; and one of them seems to be murmuring at the honors in preparation for the lost one."

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