The Prodigal Son

Luke 15.11-32

This parable told by Jesus is a third part to the two that precede it, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  In all three something or someone is lost, looked for, found and then rejoiced over. In this story the son represents the lost sinner who repents, the father represents our compassionate God, and the brother represents the attitude of the Pharisees. It is important for us to understand that God has compassion for everyone, no matter how bad/lost they have been. Anyone can be forgiven if they truly repent. Likewise, we who have also experienced forgiveness and life in Christ should rejoice when others come to Christ.

Key Verse

“In his great mercy he has given us… an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you!”

– 1 Peter 1.3a, 4 (NIV)


Lesson Focus

  • We are all sinners/lost.  A Prodigal is someone who is reckless and foolish.
  • We need to celebrate and not be jealous when someone who has been “lost” is found.
  • We can go looking for happiness and satisfaction from the world, but true satisfaction only comes from living a life with the Lord.

Lesson

Intro

Have the kids gather in a circle for story time.  Share with them how much you liked listening to stories when you were their age, like the 3 Little Pigs.  Ask who knows what happened in that story.  (Two of the pigs were lazy and got eaten by the wolf, but the third pig worked hard and built a strong house, {like last week’s story!}, and the wolf was destroyed instead.)  Explain that some stories like this one have a moral, a lesson that will help you in life. Jesus loved to tell these kinds of stories called parables. Let’s see what lesson Jesus wants us to learn from our story today!

Bible Story

Supplies:  Bring with you: Brown lunch bag of coins with inheritance written on it, 2 brown lunch sacks with “food and drink” written on one and “fun and games” written on the other.  A bag of edible green pea pods. A fancy ring, and/or party poppers or noisemakers.

Set the lunch sacks in front of you with the words facing the children.  Begin telling the story:

Many people came to hear Jesus teach.  Jews, Gentiles and Pharisees.  Jesus told them this story:  Once there was a father with two sons whom he loved very much.  The older son was obedient and hardworking and he liked everyone to see how good he was.  The younger son was lazy and selfish. He did not want to work so he asked his father for his share of his father’s money called an Inheritance. Bring out the bag of coins and show the children.  Explain what an inheritance means.  Tell them that normally, only the oldest child would receive his father’s money and only after his father died.  The younger son was basically saying “I wish you were dead! Now give me my money!”  Because the father loved him he divided his wealth between him and his older brother.   

Read Luke 15:13

The son became tired of living at home and having to listen to his father so he left taking all his inheritance with him.  Take the coins and drop some in the “food and drink” bag and then the “fun and games” bag explaining how the son spent his money foolishly.  Keep adding coins until the Inheritance bag is empty, sharing different ways we try to find happiness from worldly things.  Tell the kids that the son never saved or worked and soon there was no money left.  Ask them what would happen to the son if he had no money.

Read Luke 15:14-16

Taking care of pigs was the worst job any Jewish person could do!  Pigs were an unclean animal, not to be eaten or touched.  And even that job did not earn enough money for the son to buy food.  He was so hungry he even wanted to eat the pig’s food!  Show them the green pea pods. (eat some if you want to and share with the kids if you have enough or save for snack time.)

Read Luke 15:17-21

The son decided to return home and ask his father to forgive him.  His father saw his skinny, dirty child and was filled with compassion.  He had been missing him terribly and had been watching for his son to come home every day!

Read Luke 15:22-24

Bring out the fancy ring and party things. Show them to the children.  The father was so happy that his son who had been dead in sin, was now alive again!  What a great reason to celebrate!!  But not everyone thought so.

Read Luke 15:25-30

The older brother was jealous!  Just like the Pharisee’s, who resented God showing mercy to sinners, he resented his father for showing mercy to his selfish, sinning brother.

Finish with reading Luke 15:31

The older brother did not realize that everything the father owned was his all along.  He wasted all that time trying to look good to others and to earn his inheritance.  We don’t have to earn our inheritance from God by trying to be good.  He gives it freely when we accept his son Jesus and choose to follow him.

The son wanted happiness and contentment but he did not find it in the far off country.  Once he realized all the good things he left behind and the mistakes he had made, he had the good sense to come back to his father’s house.  Likewise, we too will never find true satisfaction in life apart from a life with Jesus.

How are we like the characters in this story?  Olivia is a second grader and much like you and me.  Her mom and dad ask her to clean her room each day, make her bed, get all her homework done before playing, and not to eat any sweets before dinner.  Instead of following these rules she chooses not to clean her room, spends all afternoon playing video games and eating cookies.  This is way more fun…or so she thinks. Eventually Olivia has no more clean clothes to wear, her grades at school are bad and she may not pass to the next grade and she is sick from eating bad food.  She starts to realize that she has messed up, and that maybe there is a reason to obey the rules. How hard would it be or Olivia to go tell her parents she is sorry and wants to change? But Olivia does go to her parents and tells them she is so sorry.  Mom and Dad love her and forgive her.  How do you think Olivia feels now?  Living the life that God wants us to is always better than living the way we want.

Pray that the children will have the courage to live their lives obedient to Jesus and that even when they mess up or make mistakes, God is ready to forgive them.  Praise God for his mercy and love even when we don’t deserve it.


Review Questions

  • Why did the son want to leave home?
  • Did the son deserve to be forgiven?
  • How are we like the son?
  • Why did the older brother get angry?  Do you agree?

Games

Farmer, Pig, Pods.

This game is played like paper/ rock/ scissors.  Farmer eats the pig, the pig eats the pods and the pods choke the farmer.  The motion for the farmer – arms reach forward like you are holding a hoe and hitting the ground, for the pig – a finger pushes up the tip of your nose, and for the pod – cup one hand and have the other grabbing and throwing out pretend seeds like you are feeding pigs.

Kids pair off and stand back to back and say “Farmer/pigs/pod.” They immediately turn and face each other and perform one of the motions.  Whoever wins becomes the leader and the loser becomes part of their team.  This team then competes against another “team”, deciding what motion they will choose before standing back to back to the other team.  Both teams say “Farmer/pig/pods” they turn to face each other, doing their team’s motion. The losing team joins the winning team and so on until there are two large teams who compete for the final victory.     

Game idea #2  Balloon Run (From Fun and Easy Games)

Supplies:  Bag of balloons.  

Have kids stand on one side of the room lined up against the wall.  Give each one a balloon.  Have them write their name in permanent marker on their balloon.  Explain that the entire group needs to get to the other side of the classroom by blowing up their balloon, letting them go, going to where they landed, and launching them again.  Give the group one minute to reach the other side of the room using the balloons instead of just walking in a straight line.  Give more time if needed.  Talk about how  the balloons didn’t go where the kids expected, and how much harder is was to get to the other side of the room using balloons instead of just walking in a straight line.  Discuss how, unless we follow God’s direction, our lives are more difficult and don’t go where we want them to.


Image credit: The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail), 1667/1670 – Bartolomé Esteban Murillo