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The Return of the Prodigal Son

Luke 15:20

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

Full bible text

Luke 15 verse 11 to 32
11 And He said: “There was a man who had two sons.
12 And the younger of them said to his father: "Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me". And he divided his property between them.
13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.
15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.
16  And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 But when he came to himself, he said: 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.
19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants".
20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
21 And the son said to him: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son".
22 But the father said to his servants: "Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found".
And they began to celebrate.
25 Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 
27 And he said to him: "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound".
28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him,
29 but he answered his father: "Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.
30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!"
31 And he said to him: "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found".

About this painting

In Luke 15 verse 2 it says that religious leaders reproached Jesus for dealing with sinful people such as harlots and corrupt tax officials:
This Man receives sinners and eats with them.

In response, Jesus tells three parables. These three parables in Luke 15 are all about something that was lost and was found. 

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel had prophesied that God, ‘the Shepherd of Israel’, Himself would search for His wandering and lost sheep because the unfaithful shepherds failed.
Ezekiel 34.

In Matthew 15 verse 24 Jesus says:
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel".

The younger son who, in the parable of the two sons, left his father’s house to go his own way, modelled for one such ‘lost sheep’. 
When he returned to his father there was forgiveness and joy. So there is joy in heaven over every sinful man who returns to God. 

This parable could give the impression that God readily forgives the man who comes to Him and pays no attention to the sin he committed.
However, God is merciful, but He is also just. Sin must be punished.
The way back to God is open only because Jesus bore the penalty in our place.
John 3 verse 16  says:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 
Jesus says in John 14 verse 6: 
"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me".

The eldest son in the parable resembles the religious leaders who accused Jesus of being a friend of sinners.
He was righteous in his own eyes. He despised his brother and showed no love for him.
He was not happy with his return.
Likewise, the spiritual leaders lacked love for the people 'who knew not the law'.
See John 7 verse 49. 

Unless the eldest son repented of his unloving and haughty attitude, he would be the true ‘lost son’.

Jesus' mission went beyond just seeking the lost in Israel.
In John 10 verse 16 He says: "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd".

His work of atonement has universal significance:
…Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
John 11 verse 51 and 52.
See: Ephisians 2 verse 11 to 22.

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