Scripture Reference: Luke 15:11-32
Suggested Emphasis: God is happy when we say we are sorry and come back to him.
The son in this story convinced his father to give him his portion of his inheritance. He then left his father and squandered all of the money living a wild life. He became so poor that he was willing to eat the food that his father was feeding to pigs. Finally, he came back to his father and told him how sorry he was. His father was thrilled to forgive him.
Luke 15 contains three different parables. Each is about something that is lost and then found again: a sheep, a coin and a son.
An inheritance was the property that was passed on to a son after the father’s death. Usually the first son would receive a double share of the inheritance. Sometimes a father might divide the inheritance between his children before he died but would still receive the income from the property until he died.
In the case of this parable, the father still had his estate intact. He had not divided it and it seems he was still actively making a living. His younger son asked him to divide the estate and to give him what he had determined was “his share”. By giving the son a portion of the estate he was giving away more than just the property. He was giving away the income he might have received from it until his death.
The son took the money and left home and found the worldly pleasures that he was looking for. When the money was all spent he found himself with no friends and nowhere to go. A famine forced him to find the only work he could – feeding pigs. This job tells us how desperate the man was. No Jew would choose to be around unclean animals like pigs (Leviticus 11:7-8).
Verse 17 states that the son “came to his senses”. He must have finally realised the enormity of what he had done. He was a failure. He began to think about his father and home. When he had left home the first time he had only thought about what he felt he deserved. Now he saw things in true perspective. He never should have asked his father for anything. His father owned his estate and could divide it when and how he pleased. Now, the son did not go back to ask for what he deserved. He went back to ask his father’s mercy.
The father met the son with his arms wide open. He ran to meet him before the son had even repented. The father forgave his son, not because the son deserved it but because he loved his son and wanted to forgive him. He did not make the son a servant, as the son felt he deserved. Instead, he celebrated and accepted him back as a son.
The older brother was jealous and did not understand his father’s complete forgiveness. How could his father simply forget it as if it had never happened? He had always tried to treat his father well and he had watched his younger brother squander his father’s money. Now, the father was giving all of the attention to the younger brother. The older brother refused to join in the celebration.
The father reminded him that he loved him and that his inheritance was secure. He tried to explain that the son had been “dead” but was now “alive”. The Scripture does not say whether or not the older son relented.
This parable is a simple story that reveals a deeper meaning. Our Heavenly Father is like the father in the story. He is happy to forgive us when we repent and turn back to him. He forgives us completely. He “throws a party” when we return. There is even rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:7).
The older brother is like the Jews who had been God’s people all along. They felt they deserved God’s love more than anyone else. Later on, in Acts, we find that many of them could never accept the fact that God welcomed the Gentiles to him and treated them like they had been his children all along. We can also be like the older brother when we think that God “owes us” special favour because we have been faithful to him and done the things he has asked. In truth, none of us could do anything to deserve God’s favour. We all live only by his mercy.
Finally, it is important to note that the younger son went back to the father. This should encourage us to do our teaching job well. Even if the children we teach go astray later in life, we should teach them where “home” is and who their father is! Read Psalm 145:8.
Way to Introduce the Story:
For a few days before class save your kitchen scraps in a container such as an ice cream tub. Tell the children that you have something in the container that somebody in one of Jesus’ parables really wanted to eat. Let them guess what it is. After they have guessed then open the container and let them see (and smell). “This is food like you would feed pigs! Why would someone want to eat this? Let’s listen to the lesson and find out . . .”
Jesus told a parable about a man with two sons. A parable is a simple story to help people understand something hard to understand – something that is important to understand.
In this parable, a man had two sons. The father knew that someday he would get very old and die. When he died, all his money, house, and farm would be given to his two sons. The money and property that children receive from someone who dies is called an “inheritance”.
The younger son was very impatient. He did not want to wait for his father to die to get his inheritance. He wanted his father’s money soon so he could go and spend it. He asked his father to divide the money and give him his part. The father wanted his son to be happy, so he did as his son asked. He divided the money and gave half to his youngest son.
The younger son took all the money and left home. He went to live in another country that was very far from his home. He bought everything that he wanted. He spent money on parties and wasteful things. People liked him because he had lots of money and bought things for them.
The problem was that soon the money ran out. He had no more money for parties, and his friends stopped liking him. It turns out that they weren’t real friends after all. They only liked him when he bought them things. Now that he had no money, they did not even want to be around him.
Soon, the younger son ran out of food and became very hungry. He had to think of a way to earn money, or he would starve!
The situation became even more serious because there was a famine in the country where the son lived. That meant that there was hardly any food for anyone to eat. Many other people were hungry. too
A farmer who owned pigs needed a helper, so the son began to work for the farmer. His job was to feed the pigs. The son was so hungry that even the pig food started to look good to him.
Finally, the son began to think about his bad choices. He thought about his father and brother. At home, people loved him. At home, there was plenty of food.
The son began to realise that he had made a terrible mistake. He should have never asked his father to give him the money early. He should have been patient. If only he could go back in time and be a good son.
“But it is too late now,” he thought. “I have done many bad things. I am not good enough to be a son now. My father would never forgive me and take me back.”
But the son had another idea. His father had many workers and many jobs to do. They worked hard but at least they had enough food. If he asked his father nicely, then maybe his father would allow him to be one of the workers. He could take care of the animals and work hard.
So the son decided to return home.
The son thought the father would be angry, but as he got closer to his old home, he was shocked to see his father running to meet him.
When the father saw his son coming, he was filled with love for him. He was so happy to see his son that he threw his arms around him and gave him a big hug and a kiss. “My son has returned to me!” his father cried.
The son said, “I am sorry, but I have done terrible things. I do not deserve to be your son. I can just be one of your workers.”
But the father did not treat him like a servant at all. He welcomed him home as his son. He told the servants to cook a big dinner. He put a beautiful robe on his son. He put a ring on his finger and special sandals on his feet.
“I thought my son was dead, and I would never see him again. But my son has come back to me!” the father said. “He was lost, but now he is found.”
The father had a special meal prepared, and everyone in the household celebrated.
Almost everyone, that is. When the older son saw everyone celebrating, he became jealous and very unhappy. “This is not fair,” he thought. “I have been the good son all along, but I am not getting the attention. I never left home and spent all the money, but nobody is having a party for me.”
But the father went to the older son and told him he loved him too. He explained to the son why he was so happy. “Don’t you understand, son? I am so happy because I thought my son was dead, but now I know he is alive!”
“He came back to me. He was lost, but now he is found!” he continued, “Please, let’s celebrate together.”
Jesus told this parable so that people would understand something about God. Sometimes we are like the young son in the parable. We do wrong things. We start to feel very bad. We might think that God would never forgive us.
But God does forgive us! When we tell God we are sorry, he is so happy. He is happy because he loves us and always wants us to do the right thing.
Do you think God will love you and forgive you if you tell him you are sorry for something? Do you need to tell God you are sorry? If you do, let’s have a prayer right now.
Ways to Tell the Story:
This story can be told using a variety of methods. Always remain true to the facts found in the Bible but help children connect to its meaning by using drama, visual aids, voice inflection, student interaction and/or emotion.
Click here for visual aids and story-telling methods.
Click here to download the slideshow or click here to download the pictures to print.
Be selective. Each teacher is unique so only use the illustrations that best relate to the way YOU are telling the story in THIS lesson. Too many illustrations can be confusing so eliminate any that cover other stories or details you do not wish to emphasise in this lesson.
- In the Parable of the Lost Son (Prodigal Son), what did the man’s youngest son ask his father to give him? His inheritance.
- What did the youngest son do when he left home? He went to another country and spent all of his money.
- After the son spent his inheritance, what did he do for a job? He fed pigs.
- When the youngest son was feeding the pigs, what did he want to eat? Pig food.
- In the Parable of the Lost Son, did the father forgive his son when he came back home? Yes
- Yes! Jesus Loves Me
- I’m All Wrapped Up, Tied Up, Tangled Up Song
- Refer to the Song Page on this website for more options.
Learning Activities and Crafts:
(How to choose the best learning activities for my teaching situation)
- Use puppets to let the three main characters (father and two sons) tell the story. One way to make puppets is to draw simple faces on the children’s fingers (You could tie on a small piece of fabric for a headpiece).
- To understand the son’s journey home to his father, make an obstacle course and take turns following the course “home”.12.9 Lost Son Maze
- Older children can create their own maze depicting the son’s journey to his father. Make your own or print this worksheet.
- Give the children examples of times when someone might repent. Role play situations and let children play the part of the one who forgives.
- Have a chain prayer and let each child ask God’s forgiveness. Do this by joining hands and sitting in a circle. One child begins the prayer and then squeezes the hand next to him/her to signal the next person’s turn to pray. The last person finishes the prayer.
Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that are adaptable to any lesson.
Click here for “Parable of a Prodigal Son” printables to print on A4 size paper
Click here for “Parable of a Prodigal Son” to print on Letter size paper (USA)
Other Online Resources:
- Colouring page and worksheets about the parable of the prodigal son (Calvary Curriculum)
- Colouring page and worksheets about parables in general (Calvary Curriculum)
- Worksheet showing the prodigal son’s journey (biblewise.com)
- Anagrams/word scrambles (dltk-bible.com)
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