A Tale of Two Sons: The Inside Story of a Father, His Sons, and a Shocking Murder (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)

The main characters are three in the third parable of Luke 15. A prodigal son, an elder son, and a merciful father each play distinct parts in this dramatic account told by Jesus.

John MacArthur digs deeply into the story but with an eye on the primary purpose of the parable. It would be easy to focus on the wanton lifestyle of the younger son. It would not be a challenge to see the mercy of the father as key. However, MacArthur presents this story as being primarily about the hardheartedness of the elder son.

What should be a story about the great joy in heaven at the repentance of one who was lost, instead becomes an arrow directed at those hard hearts of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Yes, it is a wonderful thing when a prodigal returns home. Yes, it is amazing that the father is so merciful to that lost boy. Yes, there is immense joy in heaven when sinners come to repentance and faith.

But how tragic that one who appears moral and loyal can miss out on the joy. That is the reason Jesus told this story.

MacArthur divides his book into five parts. The first examines the parable in the context of Luke’s gospel and as a genre of communication. The second profiles the wayward younger son. The third does the same for the father.

The fourth part gets to the elder son. This part is not because the elder son was less important to the story and had to be fit in at the end. In fact, he is the focal character of the drama.

The fifth part is epilogue. Do not take that to me it is an addendum to the story. It is the climatic end.

MacArthur included a discussion on the work of Kenneth E. Bailey that carefully examined the structure of the parable. This work is worth whatever you pay for the book.

As one who has played the role of the prodigal, I highly recommend this book to both fellow prodigals as well as those who see no need in repentance. My journey through the pages made me face the ugliness of my sin and the glory of God’s mercy.

If you want to glimpse a bit of the joy in heaven, then this is for you.

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