The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:

12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

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

21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

The Thief on the Cross

Luke 23:39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?

41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.

42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.


MEMORY VERSE: And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. —Luke 18:13-14


CENTRAL THOUGHT: God hears every individual cry of repentance, from anyone and from anywhere on earth, who turns away from sin unto Him, humbles the heart, confesses guilt, accepts the consequences, yet cries in faith to Him for mercy and forgiveness.




Luke 15:12 “Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me”: “According to the Jewish law of inheritance, if there were but two sons, the elder would receive two portions, the younger the third of all movable property” (Vincent’s Word Studies).

Luke 15:13 “Riotous living”: literally, “living without saving anything” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible); living ruinously; intemperately. “The reckless waste of noble gifts and highest energies on unbridled sensuality of life, or sensuous, idolatrous forms of worship” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers). The older brother’s comment was, “[he] hath devoured thy living with harlots.”

Luke 15:17 “When he came to himself”: restoration to sound sense from a course of folly and madness (Clarke’s Commentary). Came to wisdom; restored to sanity, or to his true self.

Luke 23:39 “Malefactors”: criminals. “Railed”: “Began to use injurious and insulting language” (Pulpit Commentary).

Luke 23:43 “Paradise”: the garden of Paradise, a place of exquisite pleasure and delight.

Luke 18:13 “Publican”: “a tax-collector, gathering public taxes from the Jews for the Romans” (HELPS Word Studies).



We have cited three New Testament examples of true repentance, all from Luke’s gospel. They are each very familiar; we will not use the space to retell the entire accounts, but there are important things we can find out that will broaden our understanding.

In the story of the prodigal, while the subjects of the story were most likely actual people known personally by Jesus, He was relating it, along with the previous two parables about the sheep and the coins, to bring understanding to the Jews of His deep love for them AND the Gentiles; and that He had come to seek and save ALL people from the “lost” condition of sin. The elder brother represented the haughty mindset of the Jews toward the Gentiles.

For the purpose of our discussion about personal repentance, we want to look closely at the elements of the prodigal’s change of mind. In my Thompson Chain Reference Bible, a table is included in the Supplement section, which lists the steps to ruin and the steps to reconciliation taken by the prodigal: “Self-will, Selfishness, Separation, Sensuality, Spiritual Destitution, Self- abasement, Starvation.” And, “Realization, Resolution, Repentance, Return, Reconciliation, Re- clothing, Rejoicing.” These are steps which are familiar to all of us, for we have “turned every one to His own way” (Isaiah 53:6). “Sin takes us far away from God, and the root of all sin is that desire of living to one’s self which began the prodigal’s evil course” (MacLaren’s). Thank God, when we, like the prodigal, “come to ourselves,” we can begin the steps toward reconciliation with God. “It is insanity to try to shake off God, to aim at independence, to wander from Him, to fling away our ‘substance,’ that is, our true selves, and to starve among the swine-troughs” (MacClaren’s).

The thief on the cross had a completely different attitude of heart than the thief on the other side of Jesus. What made the difference? There are legends about this man, that he had seen and been helped by Jesus as a child. Whether or not that is true, there was enough to see in Jesus’ forgiveness and fortitude on the cross to cause him to reverence and fear this man and to believe the inscription above His head, though given in scorn, was completely true. Matthew Henry had this to say about his repentance: “[He was] softened at the last: he was snatched as a brand out of the burning, and made a monument of Divine mercy. This gives no encouragement to any to put off repentance to their death-beds, or to hope that they shall then find mercy. It is certain that true repentance is never too late; but it is as certain that late repentance is seldom true.”

The final example, the publican named in the Memory Verse, certainly got the highest commendation one can get, when Jesus said, “This man…went…justifed.” His terse prayer showed elements of true repentance: humility (he didn’t feel worthy to lift his eyes), confession of sin, and seeking God in prayer for mercy and deliverance. The writer does not say that he went down to his house and quit his sinning, but we know two of Jesus’ publican friends who did—Matthew and Zacchaeus.

—Angela Gellenbeck


  1. Explain the division of goods that probably took place in a family in this era.
  2. Explain the condition of “want” that the younger son experienced.
  3. What was his resolution?
  4. Name the elements of the thief’s repentance.
  5. What did Jesus see in the publican that brought God’s pardon?




The prodigal son, the thief on the cross, and the publican were all men who demonstrated repentance for us. Combine these stories with the three Old Testament examples, and you have a clear picture of what God accepts.

One element in each of them I also saw in the repenting Ninevites, and that is the unworthiness they expressed. All hauteur was gone. That sense of unworthiness is a good thing. Not that people should be beaten down with it, but it must accompany our search for God, because as we hit bottom and realize the depth of our personal sin and wickedness before God, we can then accurately realize the depth of His love and sacrifice for us. Our world has gone far off-balance in saying that a person shouldn’t feel “guilty.” John Bunyan described in Pilgrim’s Progress the struggle Christian had with his burden and how Worldly Wiseman tried to ease him of it. It is the same today. There is a burden a sinner bears, and there is only One who can rid him of it. It tumbles off at the Cross of Jesus Christ. “Jesus, keep me near the cross!”

That humility, combined with the tiniest glimmer of faith and hope in God’s mercy, brings peace and eternal rest into the heart of the soul who diligently seeks God!

—Angela Gellenbeck




Raised in a godly home, I had made early childhood decisions to serve God at three years of age, which I don’t remember, and at six, which I do remember. However, it wasn’t until I was twelve that I truly understood how sinful I was and how I was accountable before God for all the hidden sins of disobedience, theft, anger, and selfishness I was committing, even if my parents didn’t know! My father had made the Biblical concept of repentance pretty clear in our home, and it required making a 180-degree turn from the direction one had been going away from God, and heading back to God (a U-turn, or “you turn” if you will). I remember vividly one evening laying in bed, guilt and shame and embarrassment at my hypocrisy overwhelming me. Finally, unable to hold back any longer, I rose from bed and made the slow, yet resolute, walk to my parents’ bedroom door and knocked softly. As I knelt at their bed, tearfully confessing my sins and asking God to change me and come into my heart, I then experienced the joy of being reunited with God, and of having nothing separating me from Him. I have never regretted making that decision!

When I think of true repentance, a couple of examples come to mind. I often consider David, a man who broke each of the five commandments God gave for dealing with one’s fellow man, when he coveted after, committed adultery with, and eventually stole another man’s wife, and then tried to cover it up with lies and murder. Yet, the 51st Psalm reveals his penitent heart when confronted with his sin and expresses beautifully his desire to change and not be found in that state again!

Another example of repentance is the story of the Englishman John Newton, who wrote the poem that became the basis of the well-known Christian hymn Amazing Grace. John escaped “many dangers, toils, and snares” only through the mercies of Divine Providence, and eventually sought salvation. At one time a captain of slave ships, he became a preacher, and later in life began to experience deep regret and guilt due to his previous involvement in the slave trade. He became an abolitionist, actively advocating against slavery, and rejoiced when the slave trade was abolished towards the end of his life.

It is so wonderful to know that when one returns to the LORD, God will have mercy, and will “abundantly pardon.” HALLELUJAH!

—Fari Matthews