Summary: The analysis of the lost older son in Luke 15:25-32 teaches us about the danger of moral conformity.
For the past few weeks we have been studying chapter 15 in The Gospel of Luke. It is a marvelous chapter as Jesus explained the good news of salvation in the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son.
The parable of the lost son is usually called the parable of the prodigal son. There are three characters in this story. There is a father, an older son, and a younger son. Previously we saw how the younger son rebelled against his father, asked for his share of the inheritance, went to a far country, and lost everything. Then we saw how the father welcomed home the younger son with amazing grace and love. That is what most people know about this parable. But the most important part of the parable is really how the story ends: with the self-righteous older son refusing to share in his father’s welcome.
Jesus was teaching this parable to religious leaders. They were incensed that Jesus would associate with irreligious sinners, even eating with them. So Jesus told them a three-part story about a lost sheep (15:3-7), a lost coin (15:8-10), and a lost son (15:11-32). In each case, the seeker rejoiced in finding what was lost, and then celebrated that joy with friends.
Jesus told this triple parable because, as D. A. Carson noted, Jesus taught that “God rejoices over the recovery of a lost sinner, and therefore it is Jesus’ supreme desire to seek and save the lost (19:10).” This parable in Luke 15 is the most beautiful illustration in all of Scripture about God’s joy over the recovery of lost sinners. And as Carson said, “In just the same way, it is implied, the Pharisees should share in God’s rejoicing over the salvation of the outcasts.”
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:25-32)