When Tim Keller first preached on the parable of the two prodigal sons, his wife said “This is the most important sermon you have ever preached.”
It is a paradigm changer for defining true Christianity. What is a paradigm changer? It’s when something you have always believed to be true is shown to be wrong and it changes everything, as when, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet realizes Mr. Darcy is not an arrogant jerk but a humble servant.
In the same way, people misjudge Christianity, thinking of it as morality. Those who break the rules are out, and those who keep them are in.
In the church, we have so often completely missed the point of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal sons. Even the heading in your Bible, as headings are not inspired, may mislead you, calling it “The Prodigal Son.” Unless you see this is a story of two lost sins, you don’t understand the main point of Jesus’ parable. Both the younger son who rebelled and the older son who was self-righteous were lost, and only the younger son is found, for he repented, whereas the older son refused. This is directed at the Pharisees, the legalists, and the tax collectors, who all looked down on “sinners,” whom they thought they were not. Look again at Rembrandt’s painting, and this time see the older son, up on the step, face angry, arms folded, looking down at his younger brother and forgiving father.
If we are honest, there is some of the younger son and the older son in each of us, but the very good news is that our Father loves both. He went out to both. He pleaded with both. He wanted both to forsake their ways so that they could have intimacy with Him.
Last week several of you confessed your legalism, and I so regret mine as well. When I was young and mentoring my firstborn daughter, I told her “Divorce is not in our vocabulary.” And then she married a man who was unfaithful and abusive. But she hung on for five terrible years because of my words. God showed me divorce is in His non-legalistic vocabulary. I was also hard on widows. They grieved for too long! Then I was widowed. What a paradigm changer!
How thankful I am my Abba, Father did not give up on me but kept coming to me, entreating me to have mercy on “sinners” like me.
I have found many struggle to understand Keller’s paradigm-changing book because they have heard the wrong definition of Christianity for so long.
Perhaps sometime we will do the whole study, but for this series, this week is all you get – and so I pray God will help you understand it. Now that all Keller sermons are free, I will simply give you the link to the sermon and you can download it yourself:
(I apologize that the numbering is different in the transcript. For the life of me, I cannot stop it from changing formats when I copy it. Also, numbering may be off below — it’s like there is a nemesis changing the numbers behind my back!)
- Read the opening and then share what stands out to you and why.
- How have you experienced the love of your Abba, Father this week?
- Read Luke 15:1-2 and describe the two groups that Jesus is speaking to. Thinking of the “two sons,” whom do you think”the sinners” represent? And “the tax collectors and teachers of the law?”
- Last week we looked at the Father’s love for the younger son. Now read Luke 15:25-31.
- Describe the older son’s attitude toward the Father and his younger brother. Look for specific phrases that show his heart.
- Describe the Father’s love toward the older brother, again, looking for phrases that show His heart.
- Download the Keller sermon and listen to the introduction up to when he says the parable is in “two acts.”
- What particularly stood out to you and why?
- Why should this parable not be called “The Prodigal Son?”
- If you have seen the movie “The Jesus Revolution,” how was the church in the story acting like the older brother?
Tuesday: Act One — the Lost Younger Brother
11. Listen to the Keller sermon up to Act Two and the Lost Elder Brother.
12. What particularly stood out to you and why?
13. Why would have listeners been astounded by the younger brother’s request?
14. Why would they have been astounded at the father’s response? What does this teach about God as our Father?
The reason Keller titled his book “Prodigal God” is that while prodigal can mean squandering, it can also mean generous. How generous the Father was with both sons as He is with us.
15. What was Keller’s point with the song from the musical Oklahoma? (You can watch it on you-tube — the name of the song is “Oklahoma!”
16. How did Keller point out and describe the love of the Father toward His younger son? How have you experienced this?
Wednesday: Act Two — the Lost Older Brother
17.Listen up to when Keller says this parable redefines God as Father.
A. What particularly stood out to you and why?
B.What do you see in the attitude of the older brother through these words:
- Slaving for you
- Never disobeyed
- This son of yours
- You killed the fattened calf for him!
18. How do you see yourself in the older brother?
Thursday: Redefining God, Sin, and Salvation
19.Listen up to Keller summing up with “three things.”
A. What stood out to you from this part and why?
B. How does this parable redefine God as Father?How does it redefine sin?
C. How does it redefine salvation? What was his point with Flannery O’Connor?
D.Why do religious people obey God? Why do Christians obey God? Which are you?
20. Listen to the end.
A. What stood out to you from this part and why?
B.How do you see the initiating love of the Father and what can we learn?
C. What do we need to repent of besides sin?
D. What is the difference between a Christian and a moralist?
21. What did loving us cost God?
22. What is your take-a-way and why?