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Summary: Most of us in Church relate to the older brother if we are honest. The father loves us as much as the prodigal and invites into the party.

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Luke 15:11-32 June 20, 2004

The Older Brother

We’ve been looking at the story of the Prodigal Son for many weeks now – we began by talking for 4 weeks about our call to become the Father in the story. But last week I talked about how taking up the call to become the father without dealing with our prodigal son nature, or our older brother nature is actually dangerous, because we just end up passing on our brokenness to those we are trying to father. Last week we looked at the prodigal son, this week the older brother.

For those of us who have been around church for a long time, this story is well known and well loved. We call the story the parable of the prodigal son and we concentrate our gaze on the son that runs off to a far off land. It’s understandable, we actually love redemption stories of people being raised up from the gutter. We often forget the older brother in the story, ending our telling at verse 24, but Jesus tells the story for the sake of the “older brothers” in the crowd.

Luke 15:1-3 “Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering round to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable:…

God’s heart for the lost::

The lost coin – She sweeps the whole house & Rejoices

The lost sheep – he leaves the 99 to find the one & rejoices

The lost son – he waits expectantly, forgives & rejoices

It might be enough to present God’s heart for the lost as a rebuke against their judgmental and uncompassionate attitudes toward the sinners and tax collectors, but Jesus, in an amazing show of grace, reminds the Pharisees of God’s heart for them too. He invites them into the party, into the celebration, into right relationship with the God they thought they were serving.

Let’s look at The older brother

He stayed home, but he too was lost.

25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27`Your brother is back,’ he was told, `and your father has killed the calf we were fattening and has prepared a great feast. 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, 29but he replied, `All these years I’ve worked hard 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. 30Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the finest calf we have.’

31"His father said to him, `Look, dear son, you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours. 32We 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!’ "

Nouwen says:

“The parable might well be called “The Parable of the Lost Sons.” Not only did the younger son, who left home to look for freedom and happiness in a distant country, get lost, but the one who stayed home also became a lost man. Exteriorly he did all the things a good son is supposed to do, but interiorly, he wandered away from his father. He did his duty, worked hard every day, and fulfilled all his obligations but became increasingly unhappy and unfree.”

Lost in Resentment

The older son could be described well by Paul in Romans 1 when he describes the pagan nations

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

“For although he lived with the father he never really knew his heart, or gave him thanks for all his blessings, so instead he became bitter and morose.”

You can hear his bitterness in his words when he says: “All these years I’ve worked hard 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.”

When the younger son returns he offers himself as slave to his father, and the father receives him as a son. The older son has always been a son, but he acts like a slave, not enjoying his father’s pleasure in his work.

His work is not out of love far the father, but out of a sense of duty to do the right thing. Although we love the story of the prodigal, there are probably more of us in church who relate more to the older brother than to the prodigal. Even if we were prodigal at one time, we have been home, working for the father long enough now that bitterness, resentment & judgmentalism could easily have set in.

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