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The Best Story Jesus Ever Told - and What It Means for Us Today

By Ty Alan Gardner


Jesus Christ was a master storyteller. Throughout His ministry, He used stories to teach important doctrines and to help people understand what He and His Father were really like.

Arguably the most well-known parable from Jesus’s ministry, the parable of the prodigal son has been called the finest short story ever told.

And rightfully so. This story is powerful.

To gain a full understanding of the Savior’s teaching, let’s first take a look at who He was speaking to when He taught this parable.

The Audience

Luke 15:1-2 describes the crowd Jesus was addressing as being full of tax collectors, Pharisees, and sinners. In other words – He was speaking to people of completely different worlds.

In response to a snide comment made by the Pharisees, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (Luke 15:2), the Savior lays out three parables, finishing with the parable of the prodigal son.

The Pharisees comment was true – the Savior did spend a lot of time with sinners. Though their claim was true, the intent of their words was clear – they were not only saying that He ate with sinners, they were erroneously saying that Jesus was a sinner.

It’s important to note that though Jesus chose sinners as companions, He did not do so in order to join them in sin. He wasn’t hanging out in brothels or stealing money from people with them. No, he chose sinners as companions because He wanted to offer them a better way of life. He wanted to heal them. And He recognized that among the sinners were humble people searching for something more.

Ironically, the high and mighty Pharisees who condemned the Savior’s actions needed the same healing as those they condemned. They just refused to admit it.

So, standing in front of a diverse crowd with people from all walks of life, Jesus tells the brilliant story of the prodigal son.

The First Prodigal

The parable opens up by introducing a father and his two sons. Though this story is typically called the parable of the prodigal son, it could rightly be called the parable of two prodigals or the parable of the faithful father as well.

Immediately after introducing the characters, the Savior tells of the younger brother demanding a portion of his father’s inheritance – an inheritance that generally would not have been given until after the father’s death.

The younger son apparently wants nothing to do with his father. He wants his money now so he can get away from his father as quickly as he can.

Shockingly, the father gives his son what he wants. Interestingly enough, he gives the older son his inheritance too (Luke 15:12).

The younger son takes the money and runs. He heads off and “waste[s] his substance with riotous living” (Luke 15:13).

Then, as expected, the younger brother eventually gets what’s he deserves. He runs out of money, runs out of food, and his life falls apart. He falls so far that he envies the pigs for the food they eat.


I can imagine the religious elite smiling at this point – finally Jesus is telling a story they can get behind. Punishment for those who were less than them.

But, I also imagine they may have held their breaths… waiting for more.

They didn’t have to hold their breaths for long. Jesus wasn’t done.


As Jesus continues, he teaches that the younger brother “came to himself” (Luke 15:17).

Sitting there with the pigs, he realizes that even the lowest of his father’s servants were in a better position than he was. And it’s clear that he has nobody to blame but himself.

And this is where the story gets good.

After some soul searching, the younger brother makes the decision to head home, admit his wrongs, acknowledge his unworthiness, and beg for a place as one of his father’s servants.

On the path home, but still pretty far off, his father sees him coming and runs to him – hugging him and showering him with kisses. The waiting father doesn’t care what the son has done or why he’s there, he just cares that he’s home.

Jeffrey R. Holland described this scene as “one of the most moving and compassionate scenes in all of holy writ. It tells every child of God, wayward or otherwise, how much God wants us back in the protection of His arms.”

The son starts his rehearsed speech to his father, but his father isn’t having any of it. He wants no part in turning his son into a servant. Rather, he sets up a big party, rejoicing, “this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:23).


While the sinners listening rejoice in a merciful father, Jesus turns the story to the other brother. The younger son who got lost wasting riches in a distant land is back. Now, Jesus has something to say about the older son who somehow got lost staying home with dad.

The Second Prodigal Son

Seeing the commotion, the older brother comes to see what’s going on. Upon asking what the fuss was all about, he learns of the party celebrating his wayward brothers return. Hearing this, the older brother is furious. He refuses to go in, instead choosing to stay outside.

Realizing his son won’t come in, the father comes to him. For the second time in a day, he runs out to restore a relationship with a lost son. But this interaction goes much differently. The older brother chooses self-pity over rejoicing in his brothers return. He points out all the ways that he’s better than his brother, disgusted that his father would reward his brother this way, while never throwing a party for him.

Surely hurt seeing the older brother’s pain and hearing his accusations, the father reminds him of all he had been given as a result of his faithfulness.

Interestingly, had the younger brother not returned and been celebrated, the older brother likely would have continued to cheerfully live his life at home with his dad. Instead, he enviously decides that his brother’s reward is his punishment.

After reassuring his older son of his love for him, the father again invites his son to come in and celebrate his younger brother’s return.


And that’s the end.

The parable ends there.

We don’t know if the older brother decided to go in or stay out – just that the father wanted both of his sons in there with him.

Will You Come In?

It seems to me that in leaving the ending open, Jesus was posing a question to his audience. He was posing a question to us.

Will you come in? Or will you stay out?

The Pharisees certainly hoped that the father was going to punish the younger son that rebelled – just as they hoped God would come down and declare them righteous and better than everyone else who wasn’t as “holy” as they were.

Instead, Jesus breaks all the rules the Pharisees had set up. He throws a party for the sinner who came home.

In doing so, Jesus revealed an equally important truth: that they – the Pharisees, the religious, the seemingly righteous – were lost too. They needed forgiveness just as much as those sinners. They were no better or no more worthy of their father’s love than anyone else.

Both prodigal’s messed up, but their father’s love remained. Their mistakes were different, but neither diminished the father’s love for his sons.


The application for us depends on where we see ourselves in the story. Do we see ourselves as the younger brother that ran off and wasted his father’s inheritance? Or are we the older brother that played by the rules, but put his thoughts above that of his fathers?

For the younger brothers, you will find a Heavenly Father who loves you and wants you to return to Him, no matter what you’ve done. You will find a God who wants nothing more than for you to be with Him. Rather than finding vengeance, you’ll find that He has made a plan for all of it. And He just wants you to come home.

For the older brothers who feel you’ve done all the right things, you will find that while you are certainly blessed for the good you do, your right to God’s love is no greater than anyone else’s.

You’ll find a God who doesn’t see things the way you do – a God who doesn’t play by your made up rules. You’ll find a Father who is faithful in blessing you for the good, but whose love is not limited to only a select few.

And ultimately, just like the younger brothers, you’ll find a God that just wants you to be with Him.


No matter who we are or where we stand, we all have the same faithful Father.

He is a Father who loves us, who wants us home with Him, and who wants us to join the party.

Those who work so hard their entire lives to do good are blessed for the good that they do. The Father’s love of his wayward children does not negate the blessings received for being faithful.

But those who seem to struggle more than others are no less loved and no less wanted by the God who created us all.

God is reaching out in love to everyone. He loves the sinner as much as he loves the saint. Compared to the standard of perfection, we’re all sinners anyways.

Your brother’s success is not your failure. And your brother’s failure is not your success. There is no “filled to capacity” number in God’s kingdom. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, He runs to you. Whether you’re coming down the road filled with regret, or standing outside in self-righteous self-pity; He wants you home.

We’re all invited. But it’s our choice if we’re going to come inside.

Come to the party.

He’s saving a place for you.


This post was originally shared on, where Ty writes regular gospel-themed articles. You can view the original post here

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