The parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus tells is probably His most well known story. It is the one that we are most familiar with, and in my opinion it is because we can all relate to it in one way or another. The story is found recorded in the gospel of Luke, and is actually one story in a collection of three about lost things being found that Luke records in chapter 15. You can read them here if you are not familiar or just want a refresher.
It’s one of my favorite stories as well. I relate so much to the story, and it resonates with me. In fact, we are gearing up for a sermon series based around some themes found throughout the story of the prodigal son. I can tell the story in detail from memory because it is so familiar to me. But, just like other passages that we read over and over, we can get something new out of it every time. And just that happened to me recently.
I was reading through the story as part of my daily devotion time. It is easy to zone out sometimes when reading such a familiar passage, especially when it is early in the morning. And I admit that was happening to me this time around. But then I came to the last few verses, when the older brother was throwing a fit because the younger brother was being celebrated. The father in the story steps in and explains why they needed to celebrate. And bam, there it was. Something stuck out to me a little different than in any other time I have read the story.
I was reading in the NASB translation, which I try to do when I am studying on my own or prepping a message. I teach out of the NIV usually. So, I am more familiar with the story in NIV format, and reading in NASB is what caused something to stick out this time.
Luke 15:31-32 in the NIV reads,
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
He was dead and is alive again. That’s the way I have always heard this part of Jesus’ parable. And that is a significant statement. Returning to the Father is the only way we have life. Otherwise, we are dead in our sins. That is what the story is getting at. It is also teaching that there is a celebration that happens when anyone gives their life to Jesus through baptism. But the NASB translation worded things a little differently, and it made the passage come to life in an amazing way for me.
Luke 15:31-32 in the NASB reads,
31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
He was dead and has begun to live. That paints a little different picture. The earlier translation makes it seem like the son was alive, died, and began to live again. But here, in the NASB, there is a picture painted of how things truly are. Before we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, no matter what we are doing in our lives, how successful we are in worldly standards, what our bank statements show, how our relationships are going, or anything else, we are dead in our sins. We are the walking dead so to speak.
We are living in the sense that our physical bodies are alive, but we are dead men walking. Nothing we do matters in the grand scheme of things. We are searching for life, something to fill the void that we know is there, but for some reason just cannot figure out why it is there. And then we come to Jesus.
A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to truly live.
Someone introduces us to Him, and we are open to learning more. Before we realize it, that void that we have been seeking to fill in our lives starts to disappear, and we don’t really understand what is happening. We accept Jesus our Lord and Savior of our lives, we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and we truly begin to live. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to truly live. That void that we all feel is only filled by God; nothing else that we attempt to fill it with will ever completely fill the void.
This idea of being dead in our sins and finding life in Christ is a common theme in Paul’s writings, so it’s not like the idea is new to me (You can read some of them here, here, and here). I have often taught about the freedom that is actually found in surrendering to Jesus. The world around us would think that it would be just the opposite; to follow Jesus would mean becoming more restricted. But something great happens when your sins are forgiven through the blood of Jesus and we truly begin to live in the freedom that He grants us.
We have been set free.
That doesn’t give us carte blanche to keep sinning. God’s grace covers our sin, but we shouldn’t purposely keep sinning just to increase His grace. That’s not the point of the freedom we find in Christ. The point is that we are not enslaved by sin anymore. In our human nature, we are going to mess up from time to time, and sin. But we are free from the enslavement of sin. We have been set free. We, as Christ followers, have truly begun to live!