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!
For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14
Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom