The Prodigal Son – When He Came to Himself

Published: 11th November 2009
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The story of the prodigal son as told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32 is too long to quote here but also so well known that almost everyone acquainted with the Bible at all knows the story and the main thrust of the lesson taught there. However, there is one phrase in the account we do not talk enough about - the phrase "when he came to himself" found in verse 17.

This verse marks the point in the young man's life where his eyes were opened to the extent he could now see clearly what before had been hidden from his eyes and as a result repentance entered his heart. As the text says (NKJV), "he came to himself."

To me there is a teaching in that phrase that has generally been overlooked or at least not talked much about. It indicates that while the prodigal son was living in sin there was a sense in which he was not himself. He was not the person he was meant to be; he was not the person he could have been; he was not the person he could respect; he was not the person who could see reality; he was not the person who could reason correctly.

One could almost say sin is a form of insanity. If the Bible is true (as it is) does any man of reason think he can fight against God and win? How does one fight against God and win? A sane man reasoning correctly sees there is only one course of action to pursue - a willing submission to the power that is, to the "rock that is higher than I" (Psalm 61:2 NKJV) as the Psalmist puts it.

Yet, people seemingly do not see that. Why? Because they have not come to themselves. The life of Jesus offers many examples of people that you and I looking back on cannot understand. Their actions were unreasonable in light of the things they saw and experienced with Jesus. They appear to have lost all reason and common sense. Miracle after miracle, miracles that cannot be denied, are performed before their very eyes and yet they cannot believe. He raises Lazarus from the tomb, from death to life, after he has been dead 4 days (John 11:39). How is that possible?

When he performs all these miracles it is obvious God is with him. Nicodemus says, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." (John 3:2 NKJV) After Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, "Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, 'What shall we do? For this man works many signs." (John 11:47 NKJV) Yes, he raises a man from the dead and you think he is not from God? You think he needs to be crucified? Is this kind of thinking sane? Is it reasonable? Nicodemus could see the truth but the Pharisees either did not, could not, or would not but as the case may be there was only one reason for it whatever the cause - sin. Sin changes a man to the point he does not reason correctly.

Not long ago I learned of a Christian man, extremely well thought of and liked, faithful by every measurement apparent to an observer, married for 39 years, who announces to his fellow Christians he is leaving his wife divorcing her to marry a single Christian woman in the same congregation. They had been dating for about a year unbeknown to anyone. Is this sanity? Is it Christian? Does it lead to heaven or hell? The wife had no idea so I am told. Here are a couple of prodigals that need to "come to themselves."

We all know what a godly man David was. I probably enjoy reading the Psalms as much as any book in the Bible. They reveal the heart of David at his best. Yet, perhaps no one is a better example to us of how sin changes a person. I refer to his encounter with Bathsheba, the adultery, the murder of her husband, and the intent, evidently, to do nothing about it other than hide the facts as best as he could. David was a prodigal who "came to himself" with the help of Nathan the prophet of God.

I think one can see both in the life of the prodigal son and the life of David that it often takes the course of events to bring a man to himself. We know the poverty and want the prodigal son fell into and we know that Nathan the prophet confronted David to his face. Sin gets such a grip on a man or woman it often takes some kind of outside force to get a man to see his situation and repent and turn away from it.

I once read a sermon where a preacher shocked me as he recalled an encounter that he had as a college professor in a Bible college with a young man who was either an atheist or maybe just rebellious against the faith. I do not remember that detail but the young man was not about to be a faithful child of God at that point in time in his life, totally against it. Here is a paraphrase of what the preacher/Bible professor told him. He says words to the affect that I will pray for you that such events (meaning negative things) will come into your life that will open your eyes and heart. I have thought about that statement for years. It was a prayer for adversity.

I have come to believe the Bible professor was right in making a statement of that kind and offering that kind of prayer. No, he was not praying the young man be in a car wreck and be paralyzed for life but only a prayer that enough adversity come into his life to get his eyes opened. No man can come to God who does not first repent. Those least likely to repent are those whose lives seem to be nothing other than one winning hand after another (a worldly phrase that is applicable here).

"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." (1 Cor. 1:26 NKJV) All men are called by the gospel so what does this verse mean? It means that those who are living this kind of life where everything is seemingly going right and nothing going wrong, a life they can brag about for its worldly success, are seldom going to repent and answer the gospel call. It often takes some real adversity in life to see a need for God.

A man must feel a need for God before he will seek God and salvation. The prodigal was forced into a situation where his need became overwhelming. David was confronted with a prophet sent from God and that he was sent from God directly David did not doubt for a minute.

What is wrong with today's preaching - that is a large percentage of it? It fails at this very point where there is an unwillingness to confront people with the problem of sin in their life. Sin has disappeared from the American vocabulary. How are people ever going to come to themselves if the whole world seems to be condoning their sin? How do you sin when there is no such thing as sin such as has come to be the standard of thought in America today?

There was a time in my life (I am 62) where if a couple moved in together not being married it was looked down upon by just about the whole community. I now know of those who not only move in together, but buy a house, and have children and it is thought to be a wonderful thing even though they remain unmarried. There is celebration rather than embarrassment, joy rather than sorrow.

Do you think the couple I mentioned above where the man is leaving his wife of 39 years will have a problem finding a place to worship? I hope you are not that naïve. It ought to be that way until repentance takes place which means you quit the sin you are committing (you can live in adultery - see Col. 3:5-7). It ought to be but it won't be. Some religious body will welcome them in and rejoice that they have such a loving couple with them now - a couple that wants to be affiliated with them. Many churches no longer worry about sin in their presence.

The words of Isaiah which Jesus said was fulfilled in Matt. 13:14-15 seem applicable in many ways yet today. "Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them."(NKJV)

Jesus said, "This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." (Matt. 3:19-20 NKJV)

People can be "slaves of sin" (Rom. 6:17 NKJV). Some seem to think they can change their life on a moment's notice, repent any time they want to. You ever notice how it is they never seem to want to? It is not that easy to do. It is not easy to do as the prodigal son did and come to yourself. It is hard to get the want to as long as life is going along pleasingly and pleasantly.

However, God did not make us to be the worst we can be but the best. Deep down inside I think we all want to be good, do we not? At least most of us do if we will dig down deep enough. Like the prodigal son and David we can face up to facts about ourselves and resolve to do something about them or else we can carry on as is and reap the tragic consequences down the road.

The real shame is not in being a prodigal "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23 NKJV) I am not saying there is glory in that but only that is where we all either are now or once were (and may be there again for all we know). But the real shame of it all, the deep everlasting shame is in not going home. The prodigal went home. That is where he belonged. That is where you belong when you are at the best you can be, at home with God. When he came to himself he, the prodigal son, went home. If you are living in sin when are you going home?

Let the world overlook sin and remove it from the American vocabulary but it is going nowhere with God. He knows where it is at and who is holding onto it, who will not repent, who is living in sin even while the whole world thinks nothing of it. That being the case we can only pray that men might come to themselves, casting off the blinders on their eyes, that they might see the reality of the self they have become and become instead the person God made them to be when they were but babes and had the hope of God and a mother and dad laying before them - a hope of a wonderful godly life and of an eternal heavenly home. As the old hymn goes God is calling the prodigal. The prodigal can go home if he will. God awaits him there.

Denny Smith's articles are all listed on his web site - - along with many audio sermons by Waymon Swain. There are also links to hundreds of other articles and audio sermons found on other recommended sites.

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