Explore the Bible Study: Celebrate?

7:20 PM


Have you ever been in the middle of celebrating an event and others began complaining because they didn't like the celebration? This tends to throw cold water on whatever one might be celebrating. Imagine a wayward child returning home. There is a celebration, and one of the siblings begins to complain because of all the attention the returning child is receiving. The Explore the Bible study: Celebrate? focuses on this very situation that Jesus describes in Luke 15:11-32. 

It’s a story of a father who had two sons. The younger of the two asked for his inheritance, even though his father was still living. He took his share and left for a distant land. He squandered all he had and then endured a famine. Not having any other option, he went to work tending pigs, a job no respectable Jewish man would ever take on. His money was gone, and the famine only made it worse. Luke 15:17 reveals that he had finally come to his senses and returned to his father. He turned from his life of rebellion and back to his only source of hope. The study of this passage picks up with the son returning home in Luke 15:20-32. Here are some things to consider as you study through the passage:

Forgiveness Requested - Luke 15:20-21

When the son had finally come to his senses earlier in the passage, he made a decision; he returned home and requested forgiveness. Luke 15:18 tells us that he said, “I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.” True to his plan, the son got up, went to his father, and spoke the words he rehearsed in the pig pen. He did not try to rationalize, blame others, or excuse his behavior but confessed that he had sinned. With the phrase "against heaven", he admitted his ultimate sin was against God. The prodigal also had sinned in the father’s sight. He knew his actions were diametrically opposed to the values of his father. We need to understand the impact of sin. It not only impacts our relationship with God but has far-reaching consequences for us and for those around us, especially our loved ones. 

Humility and desperation can be heard in the young man’s self-pronounced sentence: I am no longer worthy to be called your son. He thought no father could possibly claim someone who behaved in such a notorious manner. The description of this man indicated how broken his heart was because of his sin.

An evangelist years ago made a statement I will never forget. He said, “You have to realize you are lost before you can get saved.” We live in a world today that ignores, justifies, overlooks, and even celebrates sin. One must wonder what it will take before people will realize they are in a pig pen, far away from their father, and that they have sinned against all of heaven and Holy God. 

Forgiveness Granted - Luke 15:20

Not only did the son request forgiveness, but was also see a beautiful picture of the father granting forgiveness. It begins with the very first phrase in verse 20, “While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him.”  The father saw the prodigal long before he reached the house. Perhaps the father had been regularly looking down the road that his son had taken months before. 

The father’s heart was filled with compassion at the sight of his boy. Remember, in last week’s session the meaning of the word "compassion" was discussed. Compassion is a Greek expression built on a word that describes a person’s inner parts, the seat of emotions and feelings. It expresses Jesus’ feeling for those in need throughout the gospels when it says He was moved with compassion for the crowds. We see this kind of compassion being expressed by this earthly father and we can’t help but think of God and His compassion toward us. It might be hard to understand that Holy God would possess this kind of compassion for a repentant sinner; yet He does!

Not only was the father’s heart filled with compassion, not only did he run toward his son, but he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The father was not repulsed by the smell of swine on his son’s clothing. He didn’t care where his son had been, nor how stained he was by his lifestyle. The father only cared that his son had come home. The young man’s fears were dispelled as his father embraced him and kissed him. The form of this verb suggests the father repeatedly kissed his son. 

Notice something else in this passage. The father’s response to his son took place BEFORE the son ever uttered a word of repentance to him personally. The father was ready and was compassionately waiting for his son to return. It only took the sight of him coming down that road to generate the compassionate expression of forgiveness. The father did not have to hear the son’s explanation or apology. Love and compassion flowed from his heart. 

Can you imagine God running toward you when He sees you returning to Him? How does this father’s response help you understand God’s view of you? Can you imagine God wrapping His loving arms around you considering some of the sins that you might have committed? What does this communicate to you regarding the love and forgiveness of God? 

Forgiveness Celebrated - Luke 15:22-24

Notice how the father’s granting of forgiveness and the son’s request for forgiveness overflowed into a celebration of forgiveness.  Joy flowed in the father’s instruction, "Quick!" The term means to act swiftly and without delay.  He was overwhelmed by his son’s return. He commanded the servants to bring the best robe and to put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. The son’s clothing likely were tattered and dirty. The father wanted to restore his son and remove these reminders of his shame. The ring in the parable was the father’s way of telling the young man he would be no servant; he was still the father’s son.

The feast that was to follow demonstrated the value of this son’s confession and return. The father spared no expense. What father wouldn’t celebrate when a wayward, repentant son returned home? It would be cause for celebration. The father did not minimize the son’s sin, but now the dead was alive again. The lost had been found. They began to celebrate. 

Notice also that the entire household celebrated. Joy filled the house as everyone felt the father’s delight at having his son home again. Yet, there was someone absent when the son returned—the older son.

Forgiveness Resented - Luke 15:25-30

This older brother, the son of the same father, the one who probably observed his father grieving over his younger son’s rebellion, now resented the forgiveness that the father granted! The father rejoiced, not only because the prodigal had returned, but because his son was whole again, and they were a complete family again.  But the older son didn’t see things the same way. 

Having likely spent a hard day in the fields before encountering the celebration, this son was not happy about his younger brother returning home. He had been faithful for many years. He claimed to have never disobeyed the father’s command. He was angry that the father had not acknowledged his faithfulness by even giving him so much as a goat to celebrate with his friends. The elder son’s bitterness and jealousy can be heard in the way he would not acknowledge the prodigal as his brother but rather called him "this son of yours." Jealousy can rob believers of the joy of people coming to Christ. 

Like the elder brother, we might think God owes us something because of our faithfulness, compared to the grace given to overt sinners.

Forgiveness Explained - Luke 15:31-32

We can almost hear the tenderness in the father’s voice. First, he reminded the older brother that he was his son. Their relationship had not changed because the younger brother had returned. Second, the father acknowledged, "You are always with me." He did not want his son to feel he wasn’t appreciated. Third, the father assured the older son that the legacy of the firstborn was intact,"All that is mine is yours." His brother’s return would not affect the father’s responsibility to the elder son. 

Believers should celebrate the salvation of others. We were all prodigals at one time. We were dead in our trespasses and sin before Jesus gave us eternal life (Ephesians 2:1). We were like sheep that went astray, but Jesus is the Good Shepherd who found us and brought us safely home to Himself. Just as the angels of heaven rejoiced over us, they also sing for joy over other people who come to Christ (Luke 15:7). We should join them.

Jesus reveals to us four things we need to understand about forgiveness:
  1. First, you must request forgiveness. Just like the younger son, you must come to your senses and realize what you have lost and that you are lost because of sin. You can’t fix it yourself but must return to God (your Heavenly Father) with a repentant heart—not justifying, excusing, or rationalizing any sin. 
  2. Second, when you return to God, He will grant forgiveness. He not only grants it but has been waiting and watching for you to return. He will run toward you before you even arrive and will wrap His loving arms around you and hold you, even before the filth of your sinful lifestyle has been washed away.
  3. Third, He will celebrate your return! That celebration includes cleaning you up and restoring you to your place as one of His children.
  4. Fourth, we should never resent or question the return of one who once was lost but now is found. We should never resent the life given to one who once was dead in sin but is now made alive in Christ Jesus. We should celebrate it with our Heavenly Father!
In closing I want to ask if you have come to realize that you had squandered the life given to you by God? Is your life filled with brokenness? Have you attempted to fix your brokenness on your own, only to discover that your choices have only led to more brokenness and sinful choices? If so, consider turning to your Father in Heaven and coming home. He awaits with open arms to greet you if only you will turn toward home and come to him with a repentant heart asking only for His forgiveness. In turn, He will forgive you, celebrate your return, and restore you to your place as one of his own children!

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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