The Heavenly Father and the Prodigal Son

“Dear Heavenly Father” is how we open many prayers, but why do we say that? Why do we call God our Father? Do we understand the implications of that phrase? The parable in Luke 15:11-32 describes a father who illustrates several characteristics of our Heavenly Father.

The Father is Generous and Kind

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable that is familiar to many. A younger son basically tells his father that he would rather have his father's stuff than his father himself. Despite this insult, the father still generously gives him his inheritance. The younger son wastes the wealth and, after becoming destitute, decides to go back. He comments to himself that even his father’s servants have more than enough, further showing his father’s generosity, not just to his family but also to servants.

The audience whom Jesus was speaking to would have understood the extreme kindness of the father. When the son returns and the father says to put on the son the finest robe, sandals, and a ring on his fingers, this denotes that the father was accepting the son completely as part of the family again.

The Father Rejoices When His Son Repents

The prodigal son is a changed man when he returns. He comes to the father knowing his own sin, admitting it, and asking for kindness.

The father had already forgiven his son and does not care what others think. He runs to the son, which wasn't culturally acceptable. The father throws him a feast and invites many people. The father rejoices at his coming.

“The Father was granting the boy not only full forgiveness and full reconciliation but also the full privileges of a nobleman's son who have come of age and proved himself trustworthy.”

– John MacArthur

The Father Does Not Keep Score

The prodigal son has been keeping score and knows it is not in his favor. In Luke 15:17, he even rehearses a speech to give to his father in hope of being accepted at least as a servant.

The father does not keep score or hold on to what transpired before the son left. However, the older brother had. The older brother feels that he deserved the feast, not the younger brother. The older son is keeping score with the father and the brother, and his score-keeping says that they both owe him. Even though he has done everything the father says, the older son is just as lost as the younger. He is selfish and entitled.

In Luke 15:28, the father leaves the celebration to get the older son. He pursues him just like he had run to greet the younger. In Luke 15:32, the father says that he should also be rejoicing for his brother. The return and repentance of the younger should be a time of rejoicing even for those who kept close and obeyed the father. This was not about keeping score, but about repentance and acceptance.

Application Points

  • Let’s take time to give thanks to our Heavenly Father. He is the father that we want. We know he will receive us when we fail and will be patient, willing to forgive.
  • Do you need to come home? Is the pride of life where you stumble? God will receive you if you come to Him. Leave your life of sin. Perhaps your biggest problem is that you don't see your need to be saved. Outwardly, you might check all the boxes, but your spiritual need is just as great as the prodigal son's need. Can you see the generosity and kindness of the Father? Will you abandon your own goodness and trust in Him?
  • For believers, do you require validation for new believers before you will show them kindness and acceptance? Look at Christ building His Church through heavenly eyes. In heaven there is great joy when a soul repents. A soul repenting, no matter how evil, should be accepted fully. This is how God accepts us back, completely and put in the place of His own Son. Don't let entitlement cloud your eyes with self-made standards.
A Hymn to Encourage: “How Deep the Father's Love for Us”

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He would give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure!
How great the pain of searing loss–
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished.
His dying breath has brought me life;
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no pow’r, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection!
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer,
But this I know with all my heart–
His wounds have paid my ransom.