Luke 11:20-24

Lost and Found
TWO SONS part two
Luke 11:20-24
Intro: The camera now shifts from the younger son to the father. The father is the first party named and the last to speak. He is the extraordinary figure in both halves of the parable. The relationship between the two sons has eroded long ago. None of the problems posed in the story can be solved without the father. He is the last remaining link in the family to each son. The father is the only finished character in the parable. He has done all he can and all that needs to be done to restore the family.

When his son began to sell his portion of the farm, this publicly humiliated the father.  He was despised by his own son. There were no secrets in a town like this.

People would talk, and soon everyone would hear what his son had done. The family name would be tarnished. The prodigal son was putting them all to shame.

Remember, Jesus told three parables about something of value being lost and then found as a reply to these verses:

Luke 15:1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.
Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Luke 15:20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

The way Jesus describes the return and welcome of the reckless son is as vivid as his departure to the far country.

The son’s resolve turns into action – and he got up from the pig pen in the distant country and started for home. In no way could he have ever dreamed what a surprising reception awaited him on the part of his father.

So, he went back. Notably, the text does not say he left for his own village or even to his home – he “came to his father.”

The son can do no more than to come within reach; he does not even realize what is possible with the father.

You cannot restore yourself; you can only come home.

But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

Because the father saw him “when he was still a great way off,” suggests that he was waiting for him every day – hopefully, expectantly, searching the distant road longing for him to appear.

The word translated “far country” in v.13 is translated “a great way off” here in v.20. 

The repetition is significant. The father stands ready to forgive his wayward son not when he knows of his son’s repentance, but when, for all he knows, he is still in the “far country.”

Two actions by the aging father are quite unusual: (1) mature, wealthy men did not run anywhere – they sent servants ahead (2) public embracing the very son who had cruelly shamed him would be very odd and even shocking 

Once he caught a glimpse of his long, lost son in the distance, the father could not care any less about the protocols for dignity and sophistication for a man of his stature.

The real threat to this returning vagrant was not how his father might react, but the way the people of the community would treat him.

In those days, the Jews had a deep revulsion for anyone who squandered his inheritance among the Gentiles.

Consider this fatherly warning from the Dead Sea Scrolls: “And now my sons, be watchful of your inheritance that has been bequeathed to you, which your fathers gave you. Do not give your inheritance to Gentiles…lest you be humiliated in their eyes and foolish, and they trample upon you…and become your masters.”

This is precisely what the prodigal son had done! Now he would have to face the withering scorn of his old friends and neighbors.

illus: Those in his hometown would certainly despise him, but they may even do something worse. They could cut him off from their community entirely through a public ceremony called the kezazah (the cutting-off ceremony). Any Jewish boy who lost his inheritance among the Gentiles faced the ceremony if he dared return to his home village. The ceremony was simple. Fellow villagers would fill a large earthenware pot with burned corn and burned nuts. They would then break the pot and spill the contents in front of the guilty individual. While doing this they would shout, “So-and-so is cut off from his people.” From that point on, no one in the village would have anything to do with the foolish young man, not even his relatives.

If the lost son received this punishment, it would be a just sentence; he had earned the condemnation of the community.

But the father of the prodigal son did not wait for the village to reject his boy. Instead, he ran to him before the village could discover his return. 

The word used for “run/ran” in the parable was usually reserved for competitive foot races.

But a nobleman wore a long robe to distinguish himself and to show his status. Men who wore long robes did not sprint; they strolled. 

If an older man did want to run, he would have to gather up his robe, cinch it somehow, expose his undergarments and bare legs, and try something he was not physically prepared to do. It was likely he had not run anywhere in decades!

It simply wasn’t done, as anyone from that culture hearing the parable would have immediately understood.

So why did the old man run? Why did he make such a spectacle of himself? He did it because (a) he could wait no longer to see his wayward son and (b) so no one in the community could even think of cutting him off!

By the time anyone realized what was happening, the father and son would already be reconciled. This father was so filled with compassion and love for his son that he was willing to suffer any humiliation to restore him!

Whoever this father is, he welcomes the unworthy!

He makes no demands of his forlorn son. He does not make him explain his actions. As we shall see, he does not even allow his son to finish his speech. He simply embraces him.

“and kissed him” – the kiss is a sign of forgiveness.

illus: Charles Spurgeon once preached an entire sermon on the father kissing the reckless son – a 7-point sermon (!) about what it means to be restored to God. Spurgeon said the father’s kiss revealed: (1) much love (2) much forgiveness (3) full restoration (4) exceeding joy (5) overflowing comfort (6) strong assurance of salvation (7) close communion with his son

2 Sam 14:33 So Joab went to the king and told him. And when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king. Then the king kissed Absalom.

Psalm 103:13 As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.

J.C. Ryle – Let it be noted that the father does not say a single word to his son about his profligacy and wickedness. There is neither rebuke nor reproof for the past, nor galling admonitions for the present, not irritating advice for the future.

When he left home, he gave his father unspeakable rejection; but when he came back, he received unqualified acceptance.

The image of running, falling on someone’s neck, and kissing in forgiveness occurs only once elsewhere in Scripture: when Jacob and Esau reconciled.

The younger son in the parable in Luke 15 has offended both father and older brother on the issue of inheritance, just as Jacob offended his father (Isaac) and his older brother (Esau) on the same issue.

Like Jacob, the younger son faces a day of reckoning: he “came to himself” and went back home.

Gen 33:1 Now Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and there, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men.

Jacob had reason to fear Esau, whom he defrauded; the younger son has reason to fear his father, whom he disgraced. Both fears were mistaken.

Gen 33:4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

How Genesis describes the way Jacob and Esau were reconciled to each other is unmistakably parallel in theme and in wording to the way the prodigal son was reconciled to his father.

It is easy to see that the Lord Jesus fashioned the redemptive nature of this parable after Jacob’s famous meeting with Esau.

So remarkable was Esau’s response to his wayward brother that Jacob believed that God had set the whole thing up!

Gen 33:10 And Jacob said, “No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me.”

So it is with the prodigal son: both he and Jacob have been waylaid by grace, and grace is the face of God.

Luke 15:21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

The reckless son does not get to complete his well-rehearsed speech. Instead, the father cuts him off. The reckless son does not get to finish the confession he had been working on. He does not even get to the “make me like one of your hired servants” part! (v.18)

In the Bible, there is no forgiveness that does not either start a new relationship between the two parties or restores a broken one.

Psalm 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. 

Luke 15:22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.

The son’s initiative is quickly superseded by the father’s actions and orders.

The father sent his household servants scurrying. It was the quickest, most immediate action possible.

As we shall soon see, the father was able to give the kind of holy satisfaction the far country could not deliver.

The confession the son had been rehearsing was now buried beneath the loving embrace and gracious gifts of the father.

The robe, the ring and the sandals signified more than just the restoring of a son to the family. 

illus: His tattered garments are to be covered with a ceremonial robe that a guest of honor would be given to wear. His hand that had become a laborer’s hand was to be decorated with a fine ring that signified the authority of the master of the house. His bare feet that were worn and bloody from the arduous journey were to be outfitted with sandals – the footwear only a free man could have. Observe that the servants were to put these articles on the son – he was being restored to master-status in the house.

There is great irony here. The son is the one who ought to be bearing gifts. He should be the one making the peace offering. He is the one who owes the great debt, but he has nothing to give. Empty-handed he returns with nothing for anyone. He had nothing to give his father except his need – his need for food, for clothing, for shelter, and his need to be forgiven.

illus: What a picture this paints of us! What do we have to offer Jesus? Nothing – absolutely nothing. The hymn “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” sounds like something the prodigal son might say: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace.” This is the only way any prodigal child can come to God: bringing nothing but our need for his grace!

The son may return as a slave, but he will not be received as one! Destitution had humbled him. Reflection caused him to come to his senses. Action had brought him home. Now a loving father had begotten his son a second time. This was new birth!

It is the younger son’s return and not his confession, that makes reconciling possible.

Luke 15:23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;
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.

Recovery gives way to celebration.

Lastly, after receiving the honorary gifts of robe, ring and sandals, his emaciated body, so diminished from malnutrition would be nourished with a meal fit for a nobleman.

The celebration comes in the form of a full-blown banquet party, with the table set with the best and most expensive beef, enough for dozens of guests. A slaughtered fattened calf would provide enough meat for 40-70 persons.

The calf was being fattened for a special occasion – almost like it was being fattened especially for an emotional homecoming.

(Undoubtedly, the fattened calf had been better fed than the younger son!)

People in the ancient near east in the first century rarely ate meat. It was expensive and laborious. Much money and work were required. It is as if the father had declared, “Spare no effort! Spare no expense!”

There is a literary principle called “the principle of end stress” that says whatever is mentioned last (or at the end) is more important than anything that goes before it in a list.

In the case of v.24, we might have expected the father to say, “my son was lost and is found; he was dead and is alive again,” because it is human nature to assume that no condition is worse than death and no condition is better than life.

But the father in the parable reverses the two conditions of being lost and being dead.

Indeed, it is worse to be lost than it is to be dead.

Everyone will eventually die – we have no choice in the matter, but we do not have to remain lost. We can be found. And there is someone who has not ceased looking for us while we have been wasting away in the far country.

There is a condition worse than death, to be lost; there is a condition better than life, to be found.

Who does the father represent?

Luke 15:18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you”

There is a clear distinction between “heaven” and “Father.” So the father in this parable cannot represent “God the Father” – the word “heaven” points to Him.

Who receives a sinner like this prodigal son? (Jesus)

God the Father runs to us on the legs of Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures say, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5:19).


The merciful father spared no expense in welcoming home his long-lost son. He gave him the best of everything, expecting nothing in return: the robe of honor, the ring of inheritance, the footwear of freedom, and the feast of fellowship. He did all this because he wanted everyone to know that his son was still his son.

Twice his son had renounced his sonship: first, when he sold his father’s estate, and second, when he said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v.21). But the father never regarded his son as anything but his son. No matter how much it cost him, his heart would never let him go.

The gifts that the loving father lavished on his wayward son are emblems of our own salvation.

We are robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ – the garment of our salvation – and now we are declared as holy before God as His own perfect Son.

Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness

We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, who serves as the signet ring of God.

Eph 1:13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 
Eph 1:14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

Our feet our shod with the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15) – the shoes of salvation.

We have been invited to sit down and share table fellowship with God in the banquet in heaven.

Best of all, through faith in Christ and by the adopting grace of the Holy Spirit, God the Father now says to us the words our hearts long to hear: “this my son; this my daughter.”