“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”
Last week we explored how God our Father has incredible grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We explored how he immediately redeemed the prodigal son prior to hearing or asking about what all the young son had done. We worship an incredible God that will love us no matter what when our heart turns toward Him and he is always looking for us to come home.
It had to be tough for that son to come home. And we have read about the oldest son reaction but let’s consider first how it might have been if the oldest son would have just walked in and sat down to eat at that meal. Father at the head of the table and the oldest brother sits across from the Prodigal. Some close friends are invited for dinner. The Father says to the Prodigal, Son, lead us in prayer. That might have been tough to do. The youngest sitting there with staring eyes and accusational thoughts floating in the minds of everyone but the father. Maybe you have felt those things when you have come home in repentance.
Consider the next day when the father would take him out in public and reintroduce him to one of his fine friends. Do you remember my son? The man would stick out his hand for a handshake. It would probably be difficult for the prodigal to look the man in the eye, because he knew what the man would be thinking, “Yes, I remember your son, that worthless hog slopper!”
What if the prodigal son wanted to get on with life, find a girl, marry? The Fathers would say, I’m not going to allow him to marry one of my girls. The mothers would discourage their sons from running around with him, too. After all, he’s been in the distant country, he’s experienced and an old pro at sin! You know, you are who you run with and others might say “I don’t care if his father has accepted him back, he’s bad…he hasn’t proven himself. His father is a fool.
For the prodigal son the hardest part really might not be his father or his father’s friends or his peers. The hardest part might be dealing with his brothers and sisters. We only know about the oldest brother though Jesus in this parable gives us the two main examples of being lost in sin. One sinned away from home, the other sinned at home. One was lost in being miles from home, the other was lost in a coldness of heart, unloving, unforgiving, prideful, arrogant and selfish too.
Yes one sinned against the flesh, the other sinned against the spirit. Both were sinners. The problem is that one recognized it and the other didn’t! One knew he wasn’t holy, the other thought he was holier than thou. For many it’s easier to find one’s self in the son who left home. One can see the waste of his wild living and the remembrance of the pig stench. He is thrilled to be accepted again and the young son knows he wallowed in sin and he knows he was lost. Many lost in sin may never return, but when they are honest with themselves, they don’t kid themselves into thinking that they are all right with God.
It’s much more difficult to find one’s self in the older brother. Those of you who are hearing this lesson are probably not prodigals, you are people at home. Our problem is not the being in the distant country but the problem IS we are home. So are we the older brother?
Make no mistake, there is good in the older brother. He stayed home, he remained loyal to his Father. If anyone asked the townspeople about the older brother they would say, He is the good son and not like the youngest ne’r do well son who broke dad’s heart. He is a fine, hard working, loyal, and respectable young man. The older son deserves credit that we find him out in the field working when the younger returns home.
As followers of Jesus, we need to mimic the older brother’s obedience, loyalty, and service. But Jesus, in this parable, gives preference to a prodigal who was “too bad” over a brother who was “too good”! Jesus, there you go again turning our world upside down! Jesus not only exposed those who had sinned and been found out, but He also exposed those who had sinned and not been found out. Jesus has always loved those who admit there sin and act like they need His mercy. Often the legalists, the morality police of the time, “old school” really didn’t understand Jesus or really care to live like Jesus. Those are the people Jesus exposes, the ones who say or unknowingly or knowlingly imlply, I am holier than “you.”
If we were to classify the sins of the two brothers, we would have to say that the prodigal was the worst sinner! After all, the older brother remained loyal to his father and stayed home. Prodigal knew he had a sin problem and the oldest didn’t realize he had a sin problem. The faithful older son allowed his long term faithfulness to produce an attitude of bitterness against his brother as well as probably against many others in his life who he felt were worst sinners than him.
You see we should never allow our faithfulness and obedience to cause us to become cold-hearted and self-righteous. The older brother may not have been rebellious, immoral, or ungodly, but his self-righteousness was a sin just as great. He is angry when he hears the rejoicing, he was probably angry a lot at other times too. he had put in a hard day, he was tired and hungry, and he comes in from the field to find his father is throwing a party without him. The servant says his brother is home and dad has accepted him back and he is angry.
Sadly, some followers of Jesus are deep down angered by those who gladly accept back Christian who comes home confessing sin. Maybe you haven’t experienced the feeling a prodigal has when he is loved and forgiven. But somewhere in the church, 4 or 5 of his older brothers and sisters are mumbling. “Can you believe they accepted him back! Look at them over there as if he’s done nothing wrong! We’re not going to be taken in. Don’t they know that he’s disgraced the church? He’ll have to prove himself before we forgive him.
He will never change and it’s up to us to keep the church pure! They focus not on one’s repentance, but on the sin. Instead of forgiving, they condemn. Instead of rejoicing, they pout.
He refused to go into the house to even see his brother- v. 28.
Picture the servant going into the house to tell with the Father. The Father would be laughing, singing, and embracing his son that had returned home when he glances over to the servant and sees a look on his face. The servant whispers to the Father that the older son is angry and will not come in. Picture the face of the father as he goes out to speak to his son. Son, your brother’s back home! The Father is so happy and he wants his son to share in this joy, so he pleads with him to accept and forgive his brother.
That’s the kind of Heavenly Father we have. He not only runs to meet the sinful prodigals, but He also walks out to talk with the hard-headed, cold-hearted followers of Jesus who have lost sight of forgiveness and love. Yet all that the older son can think about is how hard he worked for his Father, and in his eyes, for nothing. He is a grace killer. He hasn’t come to understand the father/son relationship. He looks at himself as being a slave to his father.
Slaves think that if you work hard enough you earn his love and acceptance. Yet the Father’s willingness to forgive and restore his son to his original position, shows that you can’t EARN His love it’s given freely. The older brother doesn’t understand grace. He doesn’t like grace. He thinks his Father’s grace is unfair, it’s discriminatory, it’s compromised, it’s unjust. He thinks the Father should condemn instead of forgive!
Then the son says: ???? Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders- v. 29a
The son is self-righteous. God is thrilled with those followers of Jesus who live faithful, obedient lives. This should be the goal of every Christian to keep God’s commandments, to resist temptation, to never leave the Father. However, our faithfulness never gives a person a right to be smug and feel spiritually superior to others.
Sure, when the prodigal left home he was proud and self-centered, but in the pig pen he realized his sin and repented. The older son doesn’t even realize that his self-righteous, unforgiving attitude toward his brother makes him a sinner, also. He can quickly point out the faults in his brother, but he doesn’t see his own. He thinks he is too good to be a sinner like his little brother. That’s why he is so unforgiving.
Not only did most of us relate to the prodigal last week, but how many of us see ourselves as the older brother today. You can be religious, you can go to church every Sunday, you can follow the letter of the law as much as you can, do the right things yet often in each of us exists a hypocrite often. Jesus spoke to us if we are like that in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42. When we are like the religious legalistic hypocrites we have overlooked the most important things: mercy, faith and love.
Jesus does not condemn the oldest son for his faithful obedience. He does condemn the older brother for his self-righteous attitude and lack of mercy and love for his repentant brother. But now the true nature of the older brother comes out.
1. After the OLDER SON tells the Father how GOOD of a son he’s been, he then says, Yet, you never gave me even a young goat so I could CELEBRATE with my friends- v. 29.
He really reveals his true nature here. The resentment that had grown and developed and is now boiling over. This man didn’t want a brother he wants a goat! His brother has been dead and lost in sin, but he’s come back. And yet he is saying, Father, if you just gave me a goat and threw me a party, I would have been thrilled to death. The older brother is actually envious and jealous. Maybe he feels like his brother is competing for his Father’s love. If only he could understand that his Father had plenty of love for both of his sons.
Let’s understand that God loves those Christians who are strong and mature in the faith, but not any more than He does those who are weak and struggling in the faith. If the older son truly loved his brother, he would be thrilled to see him come back.
The Father comes to his OLDER son and says, “Son, don’t you UNDERSTAND? We HAD to CELEBRATE, because your brother was LOST and now he’s FOUND. He was DEAD, and has come ALIVE again.”
If we can’t unconditionally celebrate the return of our prodigal believers, then we are the ones to be pitied! Do you ever wonder about the older son after that? Did he just walk away? Did he return? Did he learn his lesson? Did he recognize his own sin problem? The problem in life is not in being sons of God, but being brothers. God has no difficulty at all in accepting back and forgiving prodigals . . . . sadly it’s often Christian brothers and sisters who do. Our problem as sons and daughters is learning how to be loving brothers and sisters!