Sample sermon outline: Hope For The Lost – The Two Sons (Luke 15:11-32)

This sermon outline of Luke 15:11-32 is offered as one of many that could be adapted and used in a sermon series on preaching hope. (click here for more preaching resources)


This is perhaps the greatest of parables Jesus told. It is a very easy evangelistic talk to give.
There is an easy appeal to make to call people back to God who know they have gone far from him and are lost. But the parable has a sting in the tail! It is surprising in who finds salvation and who stays lost. It is often called the Parable of the Lost Son or the Prodigal Son and yet it is more complex…

Who Is The Prodigal?

Most people think ‘prodigal’ means ‘lost’. Prodigal actually means ‘profuse or wasteful, lavish, reckless, profligate’.
Certainly there is a son who is ‘reckless and wasteful’ in expenditure. But there is more significantly a Father who is ‘lavish’ and ‘over the top’ in grace and forgiveness! We meet a prodigal God! He is the hero of this story!
Further we meet not one but two lost sons in the story. The obvious one who realizes he is lost and returns to the father – how wonderful! But sadly we meet a second lost son who does not think he is lost and yet is totally distant from his father and his father’s heart. Who speaks more like a servant/slave than a son v29 contrasting the other son who says he only deserves to be treated like a slave/hired hand and not a son, and yet is treated by the father as a son!)
The story forces us to ask who are we most like in the story? Younger or older son?
How do we think it finished? Did the older son come inside after the father’s appeal or stay outside angry and distant? Are we mercy/grace people or justice/merit people?

Think About The Context

In 15:1-2 Luke is very clear about who the parable is for and why Jesus told it.
Jesus has in mind the Pharisees who were appalled at Jesus for having concern and love and time with sinners. He eats with them!
And yet at the end of this story who is eating with a sinner? The father but not the older brother and yet we know intuitively that the father is the good guy/hero of the story. We know that is God’s character to welcome and rejoice over lost but repentant sinners now found (v7, v10, v32) and yet the Pharisees hate the idea of grace and mercy and favour on sinners!
If the message Jesus was speaking was just that God loves to welcome back lost sinners and heaven rejoices the first two parables would enough .. that is the point of those stories – we rejoice when we find a lost item ( a simple coin, a single sheep) how much more God rejoices when something or someone far more precious – a sinner made in image of God, a person repents and comes back to God and is found.
Jesus does not stop there but says even more. He challenges us about whether we think we are lost or not.
Whether we think we need to repent and come back to God (see question of v7). You can think you are righteous and OK with God the Father but actually be a million miles from him and his heart and character and ways. This is a massive challenge to upright moral citizens, religious people, rule keepers, Rotarians and the like. The story of the two lost sons and especially the older brother v25-31 adds a massive twist and challenge to the story.

Everyone who listens to or reads the story is in one camp or the other

  • a lost son who realizes they are lost and who heeds or has heeded the call to come back to the Father, to the God who loves them and is waiting at the end of the drive longing to have you come home to him and who sent his own Son to die to make that possible and who celebrates with all the angels even today when you come … SO COME HOME! ‘no matter what you have done or where you have been’ come home . No one is so far gone, no sin is too great, not for this prodigal God and not for the Son of God who died to take away even THAT sin!
  • a ‘lost’ son who has failed to see how lost you are. An older brother who think like a slave with duty and rewards not mercy and love and forgiveness. Who does not share God’s heart and compassion, who looks on others as sinner deserving of punishment but not at their own hard heartedness – GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE, humble yourself, hear the Father’s appeal ‘come inside .. I love you’. Pride, self righteousness, lack of self awareness and massive barriers to finding forgiveness and love and the welcome of God the Father!

Possible Sermon Structure/Outline

  1. Lost and Found
  • illustration of the joy of finding something lost especially when it is so valuable
  • We all love a lost but found story
  • That is what we have here and yet with a twist …
  • Today I want to call lost people back to God who desperately loves them .. will you come?
  1. Is today a simple message?
  • In Luke 15 we have three magnificent stories, feel good stories that communicate a great truth about God the Father.
  • God is a God who delights in the LOST being found, in sinners coming back to him, made alive.

a) A lost sheep and a lost coin

  • v3-7 a lost sheep.
  • v8-14 the woman and a lost coin…
  • God is overjoyed when one solitary sinner turns back and is found
  • This is a great thought that our God is ELATED and overjoyed when WE repent and return to Him .. simple, good news message.

3. A complicated and challenging story!

But Jesus does not finish there, he tells another story .. why?
Check context in which Jesus tells these stories? 15:1-2
The crowd with Jesus has two sorts – tax collectors/sinners and Pharisees/religious types
Despised sinners and the morally upright .. just like tonight
The upright moralists are scandalised by Jesus actions !! v1-2
a) We meet a ‘prodigal’ younger son … v12-19
Prodigal is from latin prodigious meaning ‘reckless, extravagant, lavish ..profligate’
He hits rock bottom but amazingly ‘comes to his senses’ and returns v17!!
b) We meet a ‘prodigal’ father v20-24
Did you expect v20?
Compassion, grace, extravagant love
Message is clear . no matter what you have done, where you have been, come home
No sin too great for God to forgive through Jesus !
Explain how much God did to make mercy and forgiveness possible – the cross
c) We meet a second lost son v25-31
A twist in the tail .. why a second son?
put up your hand if you feel just a little bit of sympathy for the older brother?
can you hear yourself saying all those words!?
A lost son who does not realize how lost he is!
[speaks like a slave not a son v29, ‘this son of yours’, not my family! ]
The father once again goes out to meet a lost son v31
How do you think the Pharisees were feeling at this point?
We know the Father is right .. the hero of the story is the father who welcomes sinners and forgives and eats with them .. can they? Will they see their own blind lost hard hearts?

  1. Who are we most like?
    There will be younger brothers … COME HOME! Repent and find acceptance and forgiveness
    There will be more than a few older brother .. humble yourself, come down off the high horse and find forgiveness!
    What an awful tragedy to have lived all your life, being good, doing what you thought was right and so thinking you are somehow OK with God only to find that you are not … don’t let that be you .. come inside today!

Notes on Individual Verses:

V12 this is a surprise that the father agrees, it is a very bold dishonouring statement from the younger son ‘you are as good as dead dad, so give me my money’ . Why the father agrees is not clear but don’t let that distract as it is not important in the story!
V13 his departure is decisive ‘all he had’ ‘a distant country’. The family is dead to him.
V15 is as low as a good Jewish boy could go .. he is less valuable to the master than the pigs . he is very
alone. How often do the dreams of the high life end up in tears and loneliness!
V17 why and how he comes to his senses is not explained other than he is brought very low and
remembers how it was better back home even for the servants than where he is now. He is humbled. He recognizes the foolishness and sinfulness of his actions. This is profound self awareness.
V18 he has no expectation of restoration or forgiveness rather he acknowledges his utter unworthiness to return to his former place. He seeks only a humble place as a servant. He knows it is his father whom he has sinned against and to whom he must go seeking mercy.
V20b ‘but when still a long way off ..’ his father sees him. Waiting and watching? Hoping? Note the
instinctive actions of the father .. ‘sees .. was filled … ran .. threw .. kissed’. It is unbelievable and lavish and instinctive from his heart of love and compassion! Prodigal. We did not expect that but should
V21 the boy cannot even get his little prepared speech finished before the father again speaks ‘Quick ..bring .. best robe .. ring .. sandals .. fattened calf .. celebrate’!! why such actions ? v24. Lost is found. My son!
[there is no need here to over read this and speak of the cost of forgiveness and how the father can be so merciful. The character of God and his heart and passion for the lost is on view not the mechanics of the atonement. The point can be made that God the Father does go to extraordinary lengths to save lost sinful people – he sent his Son, this Lord Jesus telling story who is himself on the road to Jerusalem to be crucified and die for our sin bring forgiveness]
V25 the older brother is the twist in the story. Note language of distance/location out in field .. near the house’ ..’refused to go in’ so the father ‘went out’
V27 note language of servant ‘your brother, your father’ compared to his own ‘son of yours’ and the father ‘my son’ and ‘this brother of yours’. The older brother is not in the family and is distant from his father. It is not unlike the story of Jonah in OT. Jonah is like the older brother! Jonah dose not share God’s heart of compassion and mercy for sinners.
V29 note language of the son – more like a slave/servant than a son ‘slaving for you’ ‘never disobeyed your orders’. Note his merit based thinking ‘not even a goat’ but he gets the ‘fattened calf’. It so unfair and unjust! Most people have some sympathy for this brother. Who has not felt like this? Said something like this? Yet grace is grace not based on merit.
V32 what happened after this? How you see it ending might say whether you value grace and the mercy of God.