But the father said to his servants, Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.Luke 15:22-24 ASV
Most of those standing by when this prodigal took passage for the far country would probably have admired him.
Contrasted with this scene of his leaving home is the dark picture of the tragedy that befell him in the far country.
Before moving to view that squalid scene in the swine pen, we should remember that the prodigals are still with us, still enraptured with that mysterious allure that the fire has for the moth.
This tragedy is reenacted somewhere on earth every day.
I. The extent of this tragedy.
The whole episode was tragic.
The rebellious son, the father’s grief, the waste of his inheritance, the type of companions he chose, the famine that fell upon that country, and the harsh bargain he made with the citizen – all these were tragic, but to behold the full extent of this tragedy, only one place supplies the proper vantage point, that of the swine pen.
Note the following elements of the tragedy:
A. The prodigal is alone.
Far from being the popular way which Satan always promises travelers who accept his suggestions, the route the prodigal traveled proved to be one of utter loneliness; and many a derelict whose body has been drawn from the river, or discovered under a bridge, has also tasted the loneliness of evil ways.
B. The prodigal had a shameful job.
Citizens of Satan’s kingdom have swine to feed, and many a hapless prodigal has ended in a disgraceful, humiliating task of tending earth’s swine pens, its brothels, its low places of entertainment, and its saloons. This contrasts with what the prodigal doubtless imagined he would be doing in the far country.
Illustration: A man and his wife were in a Western city and stopped for a cup of coffee across the street from a noted gambling center.
The place was crowded, and a young man came over from “The Golden Nugget” and sat at the same table.
It turned out that he was a Christian; his father was an elder in a Tennessee church; and he was ashamed of his work; but he insisted he could not change it, saying, “I’m in too deep to change now!” He was only another prodigal sent into a task he despised.
C. He was hungry.
Oddly, there was plenty for swine but nothing for the son of the loving father.
For all who contemplate an excursion into the far country, it would be well for them to take into account the inevitable hunger of the soul engaged in employment under Satan.
Our souls, O Christ, were made for thee; and never shall they rest till they rest in thee!
D. He was tortured by burning memories.
Memory is not a thing which may be turned off and on like electricity. “How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare.”
The swine pen itself was no refuge from the memories of that lost relationship.
Many a soul today hardly dares to think of those memories of the days of faith and worship which graced their youth. Hell itself is no refuge from memory (Luke 16:27,28).
II. What was the cause of this tragedy?
The cause of every accident is investigated with a view to finding its cause and preventing a recurrence.
A. One root cause of this tragedy was the “give me” attitude of the prodigal.
That soul which makes getting the goal of life is headed for disaster.
Note the contrast between his attitude at first and that of the penitent prodigal who said, “Father, make me” instead of “Father, give me”!
B. The prodigal’s unwillingness to submit to the benign government of the father’s house was a second cause.
Many who wish to lead the good life seem to be unaware that restraints are involved. The plane bound for London must go in that direction. Fellowship with God is possible only for the obedient.
His attitude was “Don’t fence me in!” and apparently he did not realize that Esau’s life is the classical example of a life with no fence around it (Hebrews 12:16).
C. Then, there was the influence of the prodigal’s companions upon his life.
The elder brother alleged that these included “harlots,” and there is nothing in the parable to deny it.
Without any doubt, one’s companions have a great deal to do with the life he leads.
D. Lack of vision was also a fundamental cause of this tragedy.
The prodigal might have taken the privilege of the Psalmist who said, “I thought on my ways and turned unto thy testimonies” (Psalms 119:59); but thinking upon one’s way is difficult for the profligate.
Swine pens are nothing new in this world, and a little serious forethought might have spared the hero of this story the tragedy that befell him; but, like many in all generations, he proved to be unaware of the swine pen until he could hear the grunting in both ears!
III. The cure of the tragedy.
A. The cure began when the prodigal told himself the truth.
The unique utility of the Bible is that it reveals what men say to themselves (see more on this under Luke 16:3).
Instead of lying to himself about how he would surely make a good recovery, or how something would surely “turn up,” he simply faced up to the shame and disgrace of his life, and to the fact that he was “perishing.”
Countless thousands today should face up to the soul’s bankruptcy.
B. The second phase of the cure was a good resolution.
He said, “I will arise and go to my father.”
But it should be noted that a good resolution did nothing except point the way home.
He doubtless felt a lot better after such a noble resolve, but he was still in the swine pen.
C. He arose and came to his father.
Men must come “unto” the Father in order to be saved.
This is done by learning the truth (John 6:44), by believing in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:10), by repenting of their sins (Acts 11:18), and by confessing Christ (Romans 10:10).
But this prodigal was still separated from the father until he came all the way home.
Just so, the sinner is still in his sins even after coming “unto” the father by his learning, believing in Christ, repenting of his sins, and confessing the Lord.
There was one more thing the prodigal had to do before he was restored; and there is yet another thing the sinner must do to receive the robes of forgiveness and the ring of sonship.
D. He came to the father and submitted to the father’s government which he had once spurned, he accepted the robe, the shoes, and the ring, and took his place once more at the father’s table.
People who might fancy that the plan of salvation is not in the parables should look again.