Many of us can relate to the young man. His sin was the sin of the law-breaker. It was obvious and it was blatant rebellion. The father’s amazing grace arrested him, set him free, and restored him. However, the story is about two sons. Both sons were prodigals, both were lost, and both had broken their father’s heart. However most of us skim over the remaining verses of the story and don’t take them to heart. Many sincere believers in the body of Christ fall into the older brother category.
The story continues….
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, ( Luke 15:25-28 New Living Translation)
In context, the older son represented the teachers of the law and the Pharisees that Jesus was addressing in the story. They were as lost as the younger son, who represented the sinners and tax collectors. The danger for the religious leaders was that they didn’t realize that they were lost. Like the older son, they also had broken their Father’s heart, sinned, and fallen short of the goal of a meaningful relationship with Him. They were even more guilty, in that they refused to go after their lost brothers and reconcile them to the Father. “You refuse to enter in and hinder those who were trying to enter” (Matthew 23:13). That religious mindset continues today to be the biggest deterrent for those seeking Christ.
‘The older son was angry.’ The older sonwas angry that the father had shown mercy. He was angry that the rebellious younger brother did not get what he deserved. Today, just as back then, God’s grace continues to infuriate the self-righteous and the religious.
‘The father came out and pleaded with him.’ The original language implies that the father was seeking reconciliation. The fact that the father went out to the older son, breaking cultural tradition in front of the guests of the party, shows again the love of God in the Gospel. It shows God humbling himself to go after and seek reconciliation with the religious law keepers of Jesus’ day. The unconditional love of God is for all His children- both for the law-breaker and the law-keeper.
Obligation or Love?
But he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’ (Luke 15:29-32 New Living Translation)
‘I have been serving you; and have never transgressed….’ In the twisted mind of the older brother he had never disobeyed his father; he had perfectly obeyed the law. Despite that, he was even more lost than the younger brother. He was worse off and he didn’t even know it. He had a servant-master relationship with the father instead of the father-son relationship that he could have had. Because his view of the father was distorted, his whole perception of life was also distorted.
You see, a servant obeys laws while sons respond to love. A servant is concerned with rewards while a son is concerned with properly representing his father. The older brother was consumed with envy, jealousy, pride and self-seeking. He was self-deceived. He saw his actions as honorable and to be rewarded, when in fact they were not and he was hopelessly lost.
Still, listen to the words of the father: “Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” The older son, because of his wrong perception of his father, never enjoyed his inheritance. He lived as a slave in his father’s house, refusing the benefits. The story ends abruptly. It’s unclear what the response of the listening Pharisees and religious leaders was to this story. We do know that in just a few short months those same religious leaders, with the help of the Romans, would nail Jesus to the cross.
Friends, like no other chapter in the Bible, Luke 15 unveils the hidden and often misrepresented heart of our Father God. He is so great in mercy and desires a relationship with us more than anything else — even more than His own life. The starting place for understanding the Gospel is to understand the heart of God. This is not the way that we may have been taught about Him, but it is the way Jesus revealed Him to be.