I’ve often thought that the story of the prodigal son should be called the story of the “Loving Father.” In this story we see not only the wayward son, but we also see the self-righteous older brother. The Father affirms his love for both of his sons. The story of the wayward son is just one of three parables that talk about God’s passion for the lost. It’s nestled amongst the stories of the lost coin and the lost sheep. Some commentators even argue that the three parables are really one extended story about God’s heart for the lost. The father is the central theme of the story and is mentioned 12 times in the story.

God has a passion for the lost. He wants to save all that are lost. It is the father’s response to his wayward son that gives us a picture of the Father’s amazing grace. John Newton experienced this grace himself. We’ve all sung about this grace in his unforgettable hymn “Amazing Grace.” One of the best known lines of that hymn says, “I once was lost, but now am found…” Newton explained that he took this line from the story of the prodigal son. Upon the prodigal son’s return the father said he “was lost and is now found.” We get the idea that the father regularly looked down that long lonely road that lead away from home for any sign of his child’s return. The Greek text emphasizes the fact that the father saw the son coming “from a long way off” (Luke 15:20). David Jeremiah suggests, “From a distance, the father recognizes the walk of his son. He was no doubt dressed in rags, unwashed, bearded, hair a mess. Yet the father saw something that told him his son had come home. I can imagine that Jesus’ intent is to suggest that the father went to a vantage point outside the city and looked far down the road every day for any sign of his lost son.”

When the father saw his son, he ran to meet him. I imagine this as an incredibly emotional scene; the father, full of grace, embracing his prodigal son even before the son has a chance to repent and ask for forgiveness. We think that the son is the protagonist in the story because he makes the first step to come home, but when you study the story we see that he did so not because of his love for the father, but because of his need for food and shelter. The central theme of the story is the love of the father who watched every day for the return of his son. In all three parables, the lost son, the lost coin and the lost sheep, the attention is placed on the searcher who would not give up until he found that which was his. Jesus said, “I have come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).