The Son Who Stayed (Luke 15:25-32)
Freddy comes forward to obey the Gospel one Sunday morning. He has lived a life of great and public sin—he physically abused his wife so she divorced him, he’s married to another that biblically he has no right to have, the language he uses would make any sailor blush. He knows that he needs to turn his life around and here he is.
As he stands to make his confession of faith, some begin to leave the assembly—they’ve put their time in and they have other places to be. When Freddy emerges from the dressing room after his baptism, several people congratulate him, but many others go their merry way. Over the next few weeks, Freddy is able to make a few friends in the church—only a few speak, no one invited him over for supper. He feels unwelcome, and soon Freddy falls away.
This scene is repeated thousands of time in congregations throughout the world.
It was this attitude which caused Jesus to tell the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The scribes and Pharisees just could not believe that Jesus would associate with sinners (Lk 15:1-2). In the parables which follow, Jesus spoke of the joy God feels over one sinner who repents.
But, in telling about the Prodigal Son Jesus does something a little different—he tells about our sinfulness and God’s love, but he goes a step further and speaks to the scribes and Pharisees when he tells of the Prodigal’s brother.
This morning, we want to examine the Prodigal’s brother and the Prodigal’s father that we might rejoice with the Father instead of bickering and complaining like the brother.
The Son’s Rebuke of the Father, vv 25-30
The older son did not realize that his brother had returned. The older brother was working out in the field instead of at the celebration; it may be that he was somewhat distant from his father. Just as this brother did not join the celebration because of his likely distance from his father, Christians who do not rejoice when people come to Christ are distant from the heavenly Father. They are distant from him, for they do not share his thoughts and outlook—they are not that much like him.
The older brother came near the house and heard music and dancing—at weddings, birthdays, and other festal gatherings in the Ancient Near East music was the chief entertainment.
The older brother asked a servant what was taking place, and the servant told him that his brother had returned and his father was celebrating.
The older brother was angry and would not go in to the celebration, so his father came out to plead with him. The Greek term for “anger” shows that this son did not just have a temporary fit—The term refers to deep-seated wrath. Notice how his father loves both of his sons—he loves the older son so much that his joy cannot be full until he joins the celebration, and when he will not join the celebration his father comes and gently pleads with him.
God’s joy cannot be complete until all of his children share that joy, and God pleads for us to rejoice with him at the conversion of sinners.
The older son told his father that he had been with him for many years and never transgressed one of his father’s commandments.
Such an arrogant claim seems impossible, especially with the older son’s attitude. He claims that he should receive special recognition because he is better than his brother.
When they look at the sinful world, so many Christians claim to be better than the world. “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, Yet is not washed from its filthiness” (Prov 30:12). They, no doubt, pray like the Pharisee, “God I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Lk 18:11-12).
They believe that because they have kept a man-made list of commandments that God owes them eternal life; they deserve it.
The older son told his father that after all he had done for him, he had never given him a young goat that he might have a party with his friends.
The older son tells his father that he never gave him a young goat, let alone a fatted calf, to have a party. The older son is basically saying, “Look, Dad, you love my brother more than me. I have worked and worked for you, but you show me no appreciation. But, when this little brother of mine shows up, you celebrate.”
The older son believed that his father’s life should revolve around him—His father should do whatever he asks.
Aren’t people often like this with God? “He didn’t answer this prayer the way I wanted, he didn’t do this or that, and look at all I do for him.”
The older son told his father, “As soon as your son comes home after wasting your living, you kill the fatted calf.”
The older son refuses to acknowledge that the prodigal is his own brother—he speaks of him as “this son of yours.” The elder brother wanted nothing to do with his younger brother—he was too good to have a brother like that. Many Christians operate on the same principle—they are too good to have brothers and sisters in Christ who come from questionable backgrounds.
The elder son reminded his father of his brother’s faults. He reminded his father how his brother has wasted his father’s living with prostitutes. Many Christians are like that son—they do not want to forgive the faults of those who have come to Christ.
The elder son was angry because his father killed the fatted calf for his brother. Because he had obeyed his father for so long, the elder son believed that he deserved special honor—he just did not think it fair that anyone be celebrating the Prodigal’s return when he had been so obedient. Many Christians believe that they deserve special honor for their faithfulness—they expect God and the brethren to make over them and repeatedly tell them how wonderful they are.
The elder son’s main problem was that he believed that he should be able to choose whom his father forgave. Since his brother did not meet his stiff requirements, he didn’t believe that his brother was worthy of forgiveness.
Many Christians act like this elder brother—they believe that they have a right to tell God whom he should and should not forgive. They believe that if one has committed certain sins that he should not be forgiven. They believe that if one does not come from a certain socio-economic background, he should not be forgiven. They believe that if one has a certain ethnic background, he should not be forgiven.
But who made these brethren God? Who gave them the right to determine whom God does and does not forgive?
The Father’s Rebuttal, vv 31-32
The father told the elder son, “You are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” Since the Prodigal had wasted his inheritance, all that the father had left belonged to this son.
What Jesus is teaching through this scene in the parable is that God has great blessings for his children. There are great blessings which come only to the children of God. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn 14:27). “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (Jn 15:7). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3).
One little boy described riding in an elevator like this: “I got into this little room and the upstairs came down.” Isn’t that really what happens when God blesses us—the upstairs comes down?
These blessings do not belong to the sinful; they only belong to the faithful child of God.
The father told the elder son that it was right that they rejoice, for:
His brother was dead and is alive again.
While the younger son was away from his father, he might as well have been dead—the father did not know where he was, there wasn’t any contact with him, there wasn’t any relationship.
In the same way, when we are estranged from God, we are dead spiritually. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all your trespasses” (Col 2:14).
The reasons Scripture speaks of this estrangement as death are obvious:
- The one alienated from God does not have the new life.
- This one alienated from God does not have the hope of eternal life.
- This one alienated from God does not have a relationship with God.
His brother was lost and is found.
The Prodigal was lost in that his father did not know where to find him. In the same way, those far from God are lost—they have no hope and can only look forward to being eternally lost after this life.
The emphasis in this verse is not so much the Prodigal’s having been dead and lost as it is the new relationship and the rejoicing that should bring.
When we come to Christ, there is a new relationship. We enter a new covenant with God. That should cause us and our brothers and sisters in Christ great rejoicing. Do you have that new relationship? Do you have cause to rejoice?