Monthly Archives: September 2015

Joseph: Dysfunction, Detours, and Destiny – part 3

Peninsula Community Church

Joseph: Dysfunction, Detours, and Destiny

September 27, 2015

This morning, we will look at the last of the three subjects related to Joseph’s life. So far, we have looked at Joseph’s dysfunctional family, and we have looked at the detours that Joseph faced. Today, we will look at Joseph’s ability to achieve the destiny that God had for him. You see God directed Joseph, but Joseph also exhibited characteristics and qualities that allowed him to be used for this purpose.

What was the destiny designed by God. When all is said and done, we come to find that Joseph is used by God to save Egypt and his family from certain death. That was his destiny. It was God’s plan all along to use him as a means to save Egypt and to save his family. While that was an awesome destiny, you see God had a bigger picture in mind. The bigger eternal picture for God was not just the salvation one person, or one family. He was about saving the whole world not from a food famine but a spiritual famine. Through the lineage of Judah, the Messiah would be born. Through Judah, in spite of his family’s dysfunctions and issues, God chose to use them to be the lineage by which Jesus the one and only Messiah would be born.

I heard Beth Moore say this week that sometimes we underestimate our purpose in the kingdom of God. In an effort to be humble, we underestimate what God wants to do through us and for that matter in us. We feel that we are not capable of anything more than what we are doing in the moment. We feel we are not able to achieve great things for Him. In her message, she made this proclamation. Too often, we are striving for excellence to the degree that we miss out on doing good things for God. Joseph did the right thing in spite of his past, in spite of his circumstances, and most of all in spite of his family. Joseph was used to bring the Father’s will into being.

Let’s look at the story for a moment. You will remember that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He was raised to prominence in Potiphar’s home. He was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and was thrown into jail by Potiphar. In prison, he befriends two of Pharaoh’s servants, the cupbearer and the baker. The baker and the cupbearer both had dreams and they came to Joseph to interpret the dreams. When the cupbearer had a positive outcome to his dream, the cupbearer promised Joseph that he would put in a good word for Joseph. But the cupbearer forgot his promise. But in time, Pharaoh had a dream and needed someone to interpret the dream. The cupbearer suddenly remembers his promise to Joseph. He tells pharaoh about Joseph and Joseph is summoned by Pharaoh. Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream and Joseph gives an interpretation. Pharaoh in turn promotes Joseph to be his right hand man and gives Joseph full reign over Egypt.

How did this come to pass? As we noted last week, God had positioned Joseph throughout this story to be at the right place, at the right time. He did what he knew to do in the moment with what he had to do with. Not only did Joseph interpret the dream, but he counseled Pharaoh that they should prepare for the coming famine by planting extra wheat and extra crops.

Listen to Joseph’s plan. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one- fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine. And that is what Pharaoh did. Once again, Joseph is positioned to fulfill the destiny to which he had been called.

Now fast forward a couple of years. In the middle of the famine, Joseph’s family was being negatively effected by the famine so they decided to head to Egypt because they heard that they had food. But when Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, they had no idea what was waiting for them. Little did they know that the little brother they had sold into slavery was about to be their savior. The one they had mocked, spoken evil of, treated with disdain and bitterness, and the who had dreamed that he would be their ruler was about to become exactly that, their ruler. Joseph the one who had been rejected, falsely accused, and forgotten was now elevated to the place of rulership and governorship over Egypt. Nothing in Egypt was done without Joseph’s consent. For Joseph’s brothers, the very one they had despised was now their doorway for their survival. What would he do? How would he react to his brothers.

As we have noted in the past, Joseph could have been angry, belligerent, and intolerant to his brothers but he chose to walk in forgiveness and the grace that had been bestowed upon him. Joseph was an exceptional believer in God. How would you have responded to the things he went through? Would you have been angry? Would you have wanted to get even? How many would have had an “I told you so” moment? How many would have blamed their siblings for the path he took and the struggles they faced? But Joseph, being the man who had been transformed through the obstacles he faced, lived out of forgiveness and grace and not anger and retaliation.

As they are reunited, listen to the words of Joseph as he related to his brothers. Listen to the tone and verbiage he uses. We do not hear any anger in his voice nor do we sense there was a heart of revenge. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have (Genesis 45:4-10).

And then five chapters later we find these words. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:15-21).

So the question that must be posed is how did he do this? How did Joseph survive? How did he reach his destiny without being tainted, bitter, or angry? I propose three key characteristics that defined his life. First, the dream kept him going. He had a vision of what could be. He had a dream that was so different than the reality he was living. We must understand today that this was a God-size dream. The Bible tells us that without a vision the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Joseph’s God-dream and God-vision kept him going when everything around him was falling apart. This dream brought him hope. This dream gave him something to live for. Joseph knew the vision was from God and he did not give up and he did not give in.

The second characteristic of Joseph was that he was a man of integrity. Warren Wiersbe in his book the “Integrity Crisis” states there are three notable characteristics of someone with integrity. First, he had a single heart. He doesn’t try to love God and the world at the same time. Doing so sets us up for failure. Secondly, he had a single mind. His single outlook helped to determine his outcome. James 1:8 says that a double minded man is unstable in all of his ways. And thirdly, he had a single will. He seeks to serve one and only one master. Even though he served Potiphar and he served Pharaoh, he was in reality serving God. Peter T. Forsythe has stated “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but it Master.” Once you find your master you will find your freedom and you will find what moves you and guides you.

Finally, Joseph recognized that God was with him and was orchestrating the events of his life. Over and over we hear the words that echo throughout the story “And the Lord was with Joseph.” God was with Joseph and Joseph knew that he could overcome anything because of that. Today, we not only have God with us but we have in Him us. He never leaves us nor does He forsake us. When Jesus left this earth, He left the Holy Spirit to abide with us and live in us.

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Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Joseph: Dysfunctional, Detours, and Destiny Part 2

Peninsula Community Church

Joseph: Dysfunction, Detours, and Destiny

September 20, 2015

Genesis 37:18-24They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”— that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Today, we will continue to examine the ups and downs of Joseph’s life. Specifically, we will focus on the fact that God will use whatever it takes to fulfill His purpose in us. We all have dreams and hopes. But, life can be cruel and our dreams and hopes can be thwarted. Instead of seeing our dreams fulfilled, we find ourselves facing detours and roadblocks that seem to prevent them from coming to fruition. Sometimes, we begin a journey toward what we believe is God’s will but the course we take can be very different than it should be. As we will see today, however, God can often use the roadblocks and detours in our life to position us in a way that God can fulfill His purposes in us.

When it comes to roadblocks and detours, I don’t know about you but I have mixed emotions about them. Sometimes it seems that detours come at the most inopportune time in our lives. You are late for work or you are having stressful day and out of the blue we are detoured. The problem with detours is that they are uncertain. Detours elicit feelings of fear. Detours challenge us. Many times the detours that come our way lead us to unfamiliar territory. And yet, detours can be a time of exploration and adventure. It can be a time to experience things that would not have been experienced otherwise.

As we study the life of Joseph, we find that in order for Joseph’s dream to be fulfilled he had to face three roadblocks and detours. In facing each roadblock, Joseph passed a significant test, and he was positioned in each case to be moved closer to the fulfillment of God’s plan. You see there are two times that we are tested most. We are tested in the successes of our lives and how we handle the success we are given. We are also tested in the low points of our life. The testimony of Joseph’s life is that he successfully navigated both the successes and the low points. He walked in humility, integrity, faith, and he modeled forgiveness at all times.

Now, let us take a moment and review the roadblocks and detours faced by Joseph. The first of these roadblocks or detours came by way of his brothers who threw him into a pit, and then devised a plan to trick their dad into thinking that Joseph was dead. Later, we find that when they saw a band of Midianite traders, they sold Joseph to them. He became a slave which is so antithetical to the dream that Joseph had. He was serving rather than being served. For us this morning, we could define this roadblock as rejection or abandonment. The road block of rejection is a tough roadblock as it effects our person. When we have been rejected it can effect the core of who we are. But we must remember that though we may be rejected by people, God does not reject us. For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it (Psalm 94:14-15).

The second roadblock came after Joseph was promoted to be Potiphar’s right hand man. He was so successful and favored that Potiphar recognized his skill and set him up to become the manager of everything he owned. Joseph had full reign in Potiphar’s house. He could do anything he wanted. Potiphar’s wife as we see in the story saw how handsome and good looking he was. She continually made passes at him but he refused to compromise his integrity. After one final push by Potiphar’s wife rather than give into the temptation, he ran. In so doing, he left his cloak behind and Potiphar’s wife used it to falsely accuse him. Potiphar was so incensed over this that he had Joseph thrown into prison. But while he is falsely accused, he is not forgotten by God. 

And now we come to the third detour. We find that Joseph finds favor with the prison guard. He is able to come and go as he wishes. At some point in time Joseph finds that he has company in the prison. The baker and the cupbearer for Pharaoh had offended Pharaoh and he had them put into prison. Joseph and his new prison mates became close. So close, in fact, that when they had dreams they reached out to Joseph to interpret the dreams. The cupbearer’s dream showed the cupbearer being restored to his position as the cupbearer of the Pharaoh. For the baker, however, the interpretation was not so positive as Joseph said that the baker was to be hanged. The cupbearer made a promise that he would put in a good word for Joseph, but he forgot. This speaks to us of the broken promises that happen in our life. But, we must remember that God does not break His promises. He is true to His word. His word is yes and amen.

As we look at the detours in Joseph’s life we find there are great lessons to be learned. The first of these lessons is that God will use the detours and roadblocks in our life to bring about His will. Look at the timeline and what happens in Joseph’s life. If he had not been sold into slavery, he would not have ended up in Egypt. If he did not end up in Egypt, he would not have been notice by Potiphar. If Potiphar had not put him in charge of his household, he would not have been seduced by Potiphar’s wife and would not have ended up in prison. If he had not ended up in prison, he would not have met the cupbearer who had connections with Pharaoh. If he had not been forgotten, the timing of his release would not have been at the perfect time for Pharaoh’s need to be met. If he had not been able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams he would not have been promoted to Pharaoh’s right hand man, who would eventually control all of Egypt. Do you see the amazing course that Joseph’s life took? What seemed like major detours and roadblocks were actually God’s plan to position him for God’s glory and the fulfillment of God’s plan in his life. What seemed to be a plan for evil, God continued to use these things for good in order to make Joseph’s dream a reality.

Secondly, notice that with each roadblock or detour, the Bible tells us that God was with Joseph. Even though in the natural he did not see the hand of God or believe that things were working out the way they should have, God was there. This reminds me of the ever popular story of the footprints. There are times that we see God working less in our life but the reality is that he is actually working best in those moments. Because he saw God was with him and was working on his behalf, this aided Joseph’s outlook on life as he did not focus on what he lost but the integrity of his character and the presence of God in His life. Through it all he exuded the joy of God and the integrity of a man focused on God.

With God’s presence being with Joseph, we find that God made Joseph successful (39:2). God’s presence also allowed God’s steadfast love to be manifested in Joseph’s life (39:21). God’s presence was working through Joseph which gave him favor at every turn of his life (39:23). There was no doubt that the presence of God was the stabilizing factor in his life. He had been rejected, falsely accused, and forgotten but God was there and God was at work in him.

Thirdly, God uses the detours of our life to mold, shape, and prepare us for what He has for us and to fulfill the dreams and visions he has given to us. Here is the amazing fact in Joseph’s life. The detours that came to Joseph resulted in growth in him personally and the fulfillment of God’s plan practically. The testings of life can bring about growth and the release of blessing in our lives. It is noteworthy that scientists have found that the giant redwood trees of California require fire to grow and survive. They need the heat of fire to open the cone which contains more than 200 seeds. You see the seeds are not fully released until there is a fire. So it is with us, sometimes our greatest growth occurs in the furnace of difficulty. It is there that we come out as pure gold. Listen to Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1:6-7. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Peter of all people understood this. Our trials and the difficulties we face serve to purify and strengthen us if we allow them to. They will make us better or they will make us bitter.

Fourth, even when we have a directive from God it does not mean that we will not face adverse circumstances. Too many times, we interpret that God’s will is at work when we are in a place where everything is going well. If it is going well, then I must be in God’s will, but that is not the case all of the time. We can be in the center of God’s will and yet still face difficult circumstances. It is here that the promise of Proverbs 16:9 comes into play. Solomon stated that The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. It is so amazing that when our hearts are in alignment with God’s heart, He will direct us to the place we need to be. We don’t plan it, but it happens because it is God directing our steps.

Fifth, the one great solution to abandonment, rejection, false accusation, and being forgotten is forgiveness. If Joseph held onto the hurt and the pain of his past he would not have been able to welcome his brothers into the palace and they would not have been reunited in the way they were. We find this in Joseph’s words in Genesis 50:19-21.“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. He not only speaks the words but he gives his words action. He lives his talk and he extends grace and forgiveness to the very one’s that deserve it the least.

So what are the detours of your life? What is it that may be a detour or a roadblock to accomplishing God’s will in your life. Perhaps it is the very thing that appears to be in the way that God is actually using to form and shape you and is using to bring about His will in you.

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Joseph: Dysfunctional, Detours, and Destiny

Peninsula Community Church

Joseph: Dysfunction, Detours, and Destiny

September 13, 2015

Genesis 37:1-14 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

This morning, we begin a new series entitled Joseph: Dysfunction, Detours, and Destiny. I love reading biographies of great leaders. In their stories we find hope and encouragement. The story of Joseph is no different. It is for that reason we will spend the next few weeks looking at Joseph’s life and the lessons we can learn from his journey from riches to poverty back to riches. As we begin, it is noteworthy that 14 of the 50 chapters of Genesis are dedicated to the life of Joseph. This is more than any of the other characters in this particular book. Therefore Joseph must have something to teach you and I.

Today, we will focus on one aspect of Joseph’s life. We will focus on the dysfunction of his family. To understand this I will define dysfunction as “the condition of having poor or unhealthy behaviors and attitudes within a group of people.” As we will see, Joseph’s family was definitely dysfunctional.

As we begin, let me ask you a question? What kind of family did you grow up in? Was it a stable family with a stable environment? My guess is that many of us grew up in a somewhat stable and peaceful environment, but there is also a recognition that many of us did not. But here is a truth. Even in the most stable family there is usually some dysfunction. It usually comes from that family member who goes against the family’s ideals and they tend to break the rules. They are the alcoholic, the drug addict, or the abuser. It might be the emotionally detached father or mother. As you read the story, you will find that Joseph’s family was dysfunctional and unstable. The family was indeed characterized by deceit, sexual sin, jealously, and passivity.

It is of note that the passage before us today begins with Jacob, Joseph’s father. To understand the dysfunction in the family, we must review the family history. First of all Jacob’s name means “supplanter” or “deceiver.” As we read the story, we find that Jacob lived up to this name by stealing his brother’s birthright and stealing his brother’s blessing. We don’t understand this in our culture but both of these things were major issues for children in that day. You see the elder brother was to inherit the family’s wealth. By selling his birthright, Esau gave up his right to his father’s wealth. Secondly, the blessing of the father was an important rite of passage. Blessings were often given in the final days of one’s life. In many ways, blessings were prophetic statements about what the father saw in each son.

From here, Jacob runs from his father’s house and heads off to find a wife. He falls in love with Rachel and agrees to work for seven years to take her hand in marriage. But on their wedding day we find that Laban, Rachel’s father, had given Leah to Jacob instead of Rachel. The deceiver had been deceived. Jacob then worked for another seven years to marry his love, Rachel. At the end of the seven years, he finally marries her and they begin their life together after working another seven years to get his wealth built up through his own deception.

As the story continues, we find that Leah gives birth to six children while Rachel is barren. She has no children. In that culture, barrenness was considered a curse and people looked down on women who were barren. From her cries to God for a child she finally becomes pregnant and gives birth to Joseph. She becomes pregnant once again but dies in childbirth. Jacob’s love is now dead and Joseph’s mom is gone as well.

Later, in Jacob’s story we find that Dinah, one of Jacob’s daughters, is raped and that Jacob’s son’s take revenge into their own hands and by way of trickery they have the rapist and his family killed. The sad part of this story is that we find that Jacob is more concerned about what people may think about the situation than standing up and supporting his daughter. Later, we find Rueben the oldest son having a sexual affair with his stepbrother’s mother. Once again, passivity is exhibited by Jacob as we do not find him doing anything to deal with the wrongs done. The Bible is in fact silent in terms of his response to these gross issues.

Now we arrive on the scene of Joseph’s life. We find that Joseph is loved and favored by Jacob more than his other brothers. To make matters worse, Jacob does not hide the fact that he loves Joseph more than the other brothers. The story tells us that he made Joseph a coat of many colors. Historians have noted that this was not just a simple robe or tunic but rather it was a full length robe that extended to the arms and the ankles. In other words, it was not intended to be a work garment, it was the opposite. To top things off, Joseph had received two dreams that showed Joseph ruling over his brothers and his family.

Here is where we pick up the story in Genesis 37. While Joseph’s brothers are working hard to tend to the sheep, Joseph shows up not dressed for work but wearing his dad’s gift of the royal robe. Look at the setup for the anger to be exhibited by his brothers. Joseph had been a tattle tale, he was his dad’s favorite so he did not have to work in the field, and he was quick to tell his brothers his dreams that he would rule over them some day. They were angry and could not talk with him without the anger in their hearts being manifested. Because of their anger, they devised a plan to get rid of him. The first plan was murder, but Rueben talked them out of it and suggested that they place him in a pit, which they did. Later, they sold him into slavery, took his robe, soaked it in blood, and told their father that he had been killed.

What a sad story! What a dysfunctional family! There was rape, incest, murder, death, sorrow, deception, jealously, and bitterness. Sounds pretty dysfunctional to me. But there are lessons to be learned from all of this. As we learn from Paul, in the New Testament, the role of the Old Testament was to instruct us and to give us hope. For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Let me share a few of these lessons with you in regard to dysfunctional families.

First, no family is exempt from dysfunction or dysfunctional members. The reason for this is that we are all impacted by the power of sin. Sometimes, we think that our family is the only one like it. We suffer from the actions of people in our families who don’t seem to care and who have their own agendas. Since the fall of mankind, families have been impacted by sin and wrong attitudes. That is what makes us dysfunctional.

Second, the dysfunction of our family does not have to define us. Too often the problem with living in a dysfunctional family is that the family begins to define who they are by the dysfunction rather than being defined by who God says they are. As we will find out later in this story, Joseph should have been an angry bitter man but we never see him resort to anger or bitterness. The implication here is that he trusted God. Throughout this story, we hear the one statement that rings so true. “And the Lord was with Joseph.” Even though his world was falling apart, he trusted God. He did not resort to the tactics of his father or his brothers. His life was defined by God and not by his circumstances.

Third, our dysfunctional situations can be a testimony of God’s grace rather than of our defeat. When we come to the conclusion of this story, we find that Joseph’s story is one of God’s grace. It is a story of victory and overcoming the odds. Joseph should not have survived, but he did. He should not have been a man of integrity, but he was. He was betrayed, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and forgotten but he was not forgotten by God. Here is a truth that bears acknowledgement. God knows you and He knows your name. He has not forgotten you. He has a plan for you and for your life.

Fourth, we can rise above the dysfunction to accomplish great things for God. Joseph was blessed by God and he rose to great heights of leadership. The greatest act of Joseph’s life was to extend forgiveness to his brothers. The greatest effect on Joseph’s life was not the accomplishments he achieved but the attitude of his changed heart. This arrogant and self-centered kid has now been filled with the Father’s love and his life was changed forever.

The most powerful verse in Genesis is the one that communicates Joseph’s posture of forgiveness to his brothers. In Genesis 50:19-21 Joseph says “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

As we close, we find that regardless of Joseph’s dysfunctional family and his own attitude, God used him. In fact, it is the broken and the wounded that God uses. In Corinthians 1:27, Paul tells us that he uses the foolish in the world to shame or confound the wise. God can take the mess of your life and he can redeem it. That is God!

Let’s pray.

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Lost and Found – Part 4

Peninsula Community Church

Lost and Found – The Elder Brother

September 6, 2015

Luke 15: 25-32 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 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.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 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. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

We have been looking at Luke 15 for the last few weeks. Today, we will continue our journey in this study as we focus our attention on the elder son who played as much a part of this story as the prodigal son. In fact, I believe the elder son was in fact the real focus of the story from the beginning. Remember the whole purpose of this parable and the two parables that preceded this one was to address the criticism the Scribes and Pharisees leveled at Jesus. They complained about Jesus being with tax collectors and sinners. They were incensed at the love and grace that Jesus was showing those who were neither politically, culturally, or spiritually acceptable in their culture.

As we noted last week, we see that the younger son was rebellious and unrighteous, but this week we find that the older son is self-righteous and religious. The older son’s actions and attitude represented the Scribes and Pharisee’s attitude in that he became angry and incensed over the father receiving the son back home. His motivation was rooted in self-righteousness and self-centeredness. Instead of engaging the younger brother, the older brother stood at a distance and judged his brother’s actions and his father’s decision to restore him to right standing. Culturally, the son should have been at the father’s side as it was the elder son’s responsibility to cohost parties and celebrations thrown by his father. This was a way of letting those who came to the party know that the older brother was the successor to the father’s leadership.

Rather than being in the place of honor, he choose to dishonor his father and in fact he dishonored himself by not showing up for the party. The text says that he was angry and refused to join the party. He knew about the celebration but he refused to join in. The language he used was disrespectful and demeaning to his dad. He basically dissed his dad and refused to honor him by not fulfilling his role as the eldest son. When the father approached him, the son was incredibly disrespectful. He did not address him as his father but was being belligerent to his dad. Listen to his words. 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. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!  You can almost sense the disdain and anger in the son’s voice and in his tone. Rather than rejoicing in his father’s grace he was angry and upset. The elder son had not learned the lesson of grace which is that grace does not always seem fair.

It is noteworthy that the phrase he uses is “I have served you.” This term “served” in the Greek was primarily used by slaves and not sons. In essence, what the elder son was saying is “I have worked my but off for you. I have slaved to keep this farm going and now this snot nosed kid comes in and after rebelling and squandering all of his money, you have welcomed him back into the family with no strings attached.” As some of you read this, you might be inclined to agree with the elder son. He did stay at home. He did serve the father. But his attitude was filled with self-righteousness and religious animosity.

The elder son was very quick to point out that he had been faithful to the father. His obedience had become a badge of honor rather than a loving gesture toward a loving father. He was acting like his father was a master to be served rather than a father to be honored and loved. Obedience to his commands and not the loving embrace of his loving father was the basis of his relationship with the father. We must know that what honors God most is child-like faith. We honor God when we serve him as a son and not as a slave.

Notice what the father does. First, he approaches the son. The son should have come to the father, but instead the father lovingly approaches the son. The father takes the first step. He did not send a servant to the son. He did not holler from the porch. He went to him personally. He did not want to embarrass or belittle his son in front of their guests and yet he had every right to. But, as in the story of the younger son, we see the father lovingly approach his son. His words and his actions once again serve to remind us that God loves us and reaches out to us with grace and love. It is noteworthy that the father’s verbiage is so much different than his son’s. Hear his words. Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. Can you hear and feel the love, kindness, and grace the father is extending to this self-righteous and ungrateful son?

Secondly, he entreats the son. Notice, he does not stoop to the level of his son. He speaks to him as a son and not as a slave. He does not lash out or get angry. He simply reminds him of his position and his place in the father’s house. In essence, the father is emphatically and persuasively calling the son to come and celebrate the return of his younger brother. He is not commanding but trying to persuade him to do the right thing and to live up to his purpose as the elder son.

Thirdly, the father reminds the son that he has always been with him. He had the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the provisions of the father everyday but he was more interested in living like a slave rather than as a son. The elder son had forgotten his relationship with the father. His belief system was upside down and was messed up. Paul in Galatians knew that it was easy for us to move from the slavery of sin to the slavery of good works and good deeds. For that reason he penned these words in Galatians 5:1. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Paul was keenly aware of the temptation to be enticed into slavery and bondage.

Fourthly, the father reminded the son that he already had everything he needed. He was his father’s heir. In essence, he was saying you can have a party any time you want because this all belongs to you. He was also saying to him that you were working hard at getting what you already had. You already have my love. You already have everything you need. You already possess this farm, this land, and this home. It is yours by right of inheritance.  You don’t have to work for it.

So what do we learn from this exchange? We learn that too often we have become enslaved to doing good works in order for God to love us and accept us. But our works never change the love that God has for us. Remember last week, we stated that He loves us. He has loved us. He will continue to love us. He does not stop loving us because we make bad choices or do the wrong thing. At the same time, he does not love us any more than he does right now when we do all of the right things. The problem too often is that we are trying to obtain what we have already received. We strive to get his love, when we have it already. We strive to get his blessing, when we have it already. We strive to have a relationship with him by our good works but we already are in relationship with Him when He accepted us into His family through His work on the cross.

God is always ready to come to us with open arms to receive even the self-righteous and religious. He loves them and desires for them to be in their rightful place. You see both sons had a diminished view of their value in the face of their father. If we are not careful, we too will experience a diminished value as to who God is and what how he sees us. Both sons rejected the father. Both were lost apart from the loving embrace of the father.

As we close, let me make an observation. In the first two parables there was someone who went looking and searching for that which was lost. I propose to you today that if the elder brother had been in his right mind and had the right attitude he should have gone out to search for his brother. He could have gone, but he did not. He was flawed. That is why I am glad that there was a third brother in this story. He is the one telling the story. He saw a lost and rebellious people who had separated themselves from God. He came to seek and save the lost according to Luke 19:10. He was not filled with pride or self-righteousness, he was righteousness. He came to seek and save the rebellious and unrighteous, but he also came to save the self-righteous and religious. Where do you fit? Wherever you fit into this story I can tell you that he came to seek and save you. Will you respond? Will you join the party and the celebration of God’s grace to those who are so undeserving? Let’s pray!

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Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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