Summary: Being an Authentic Follower of Jesus: The Prodigal Father: Looking at the Older Brother
Being an Authentic Follower of Jesus:
The Prodigal Father: Looking at the Older Brother
September 20, 2009
We have seen that ‘prodigal’ means being characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure, to be lavish, or extravagant. More than anyone else in this parable, that defines the father and it defines God. Both sons are alienated from God and both are seeking God’s acceptance in different ways. This story is scandalous because the younger, undeserving brother, is embraced and celebrated but the older brother, the ‘deserving brother,’ is left unreconciled to the father. So let’s look at what it means to be an older brother today.
1. Understanding Lostness for Religious Types (v. 28)
When the older brother really understands the father, he wants no part of him or his feast. He was very religious, went to church every week, memorized every verse in Sunday School, ‘served God’ all his life, did all the right things, yet is completely lost and does not know it. So in the end the younger brother, the rebellious one, is saved but the older son, the good son, is lost.
Why does the older brother refuse to go in? “All these years I have slaved for you and never disobeyed.” The older son is lost because of his good behavior, his righteousness. It is not his sin that keeps him out but his ‘righteousness.’ This confused Jesus’ audience, especially the Pharisees. It may be shocking and confusing to you. Why is he lost? Both brothers wanted the fathers’ wealth but not the father. The younger brother got what he wanted by leaving home and breaking the moral rules. But in the end, the older brother also wanted to selfishly control his fathers' wealth. He was unhappy with the way the father was using his possessions – the robe, the ring, the calf, and the party. The younger brother got control by taking his stuff and running away but the older brother got control by staying at home and being good. And so he felt that now he had the right to tell his father what to do with the possessions because he had obeyed perfectly. Both brothers were their own savior and lord. The younger brother was his own savior and lord by breaking all the laws and being bad. The older brother was his own savior and lord by keeping all the laws and being good. If I can be so good that God has to answer my prayer, give me a good life, and take me to heaven, then all I do may be looking to Jesus to be my helper and my rewarder but he is not my savior. I am my own savior. The difference between a religious person and a Christ follower is that the religious person obeys God to get control over God and things from God but the Christ follower obeys God just to get God, to love God, and to please and draw near to God.
2. The Signs of Religious Type Lostness (29-30)
Some people are complete older brothers. They obey God with the expectation that God then owes them. They have never even understood the gospel at all. But many Christ followers who know the gospel are none the less ‘older brother types.’ They know the gospel of salvation by grace alone with their heads but their hearts go back to the older brotherish ‘default mode’ of self-salvation.
The older ‘brotherish’ attitude looks like:
Anger (v. 28) – Older brothers believe that God owes them a comfortable and good life if they try hard and live up to standards. So they say, “my life ought to be going really well’ and when it doesn’t they get angry. But salvation does not exempt us from suffering and does not promise us the good life. New Testament make is clear that suffering is a part of the Christian life (2 Tim 2:3, 4:5; James 5:10, 13; 1 P 3:17, 4:19).
Joyless and mechanical obedience (v. 29) – “I’ve been slaving for you.” Older brothers obey God as a means to an end – as a way to get the things they really love. Obedience to God is sometimes hard but older brothers almost always find obedience joyless, mechanical, and slavish.
A coldness to younger brothers (v. 30) – “This son of yours.” The older brother will not even acknowledge his younger brother. Older brothers are too contemptuous of others unlike themselves to be effective in evangelism. They pride themselves on their doctrinal and moral purity; unavoidably feel superior to those who do not have these things.
Not certain of Father’s love (v. 29) – “You never threw me a party.” As long as you are trying to earn your salvation by controlling God through your goodness, you will never be sure you have been good enough. So every time something goes wrong in your life, you wonder if God is punishing you. Or you have irresolvable guilt. You are never sure you’ve repented enough, so you beat yourself up over what you did. And there is no real sense of intimacy in your prayer life. You may pray a lot of prayers asking for things but do not sense his love.