The inspired historian, Luke, records for us a very interesting story of a man with two sons. We find this narrative at verse eleven, of the fifteenth chapter. Jesus tells of a young man, who foolishly and selfishly request of his father his portion of inheritance (Luke 15:12). He takes what is given him and waste it all. The text tells us that he spread abroad all he had on intemperate, debauched, riotous living (Luke 15:13). After having wasted all of his goods on immorality and ungodliness, a great famine arose in the land and he began to suffer need. It is at this point he makes a choice to go even further away from home. He joined himself to a citizen of that country. This new employer gave him a job to do- feed swine. (Luke 15:14-15).
It is here we find out that this young man isn’t making ends meet with this new found position as a “pig slopper.” He was having to eat the food he was feeding to the pigs. He was far from home- in a foreign land with nothing, and no man gave to him (Luke 15:16).
It is typical of sin and shame to lead a man to “rock bottom”. The old saying goes: “Sin will take you further than you intended to go, keep you longer than you intended to stay, and cost you more than you were willing to pay.” I’m sure that this young lad looked around at his predicament, taking inventory of his situation and thought, “What on earth am I doing here?” The text simply says, “He came to himself” (Luke 15:17). Sin is of the nature that it is just enough fun to keep you amused to wallow in it more and more. The more a person wallows in sin- the more accustomed to the mire they become. This young man was accustomed to the mire, but he had a moment of clarity. Instead of reminiscing on how much fun the riotous living was, he came to grips with how empty his stomach was and how degrading it was for a Jewish lad to take up residence with the pigs.
This young man sin had led him far away from home. He was destitute and in a moment of circumstantial evaluation it dawned on him, “My father has many hired servants and they have bread enough to spare and I am languishing in hunger and want”. He realized that he didn’t have to stay in the situation he was in. He could repent! If he was willing to work for a stranger that wouldn’t pay him enough to fill his stomach with bread, couldn’t he work for his father and at least have bread enough to spare” (Luke 15:17-21)? He came to himself.
It is at this juncture we meet this father who longed for his son. He commanded the servants to bring items to the boy to restore him to the house and a certain sense of dignity (Luke 15:22-23). It was time to celebrate the return of the boy who had done violence to the family estate and name. Topping off the list of request the father made was to dress the fat calf, to make merry, and really feast over this very special occasion.
It seems that children raised under the same roof, by the same parents, under the same rules, often turn out differently. I suspect this is because of the power of choice we all possess. This author knows well this truth. Looking at the life of my sister and the choices I made, and it is obvious that I am a spitting image of the prodigal boy.
We are now introduced to the prodigal’s older brother, who is “in the field” (Luke 15:25). This elder brother is at home and being productive. He is adding value to the estate by working for his father. And it is with sweat on his brow and a cramp in his hand that he hears music (Luke 15:25). I’m sure that being “the good son”, allowed him to be privy of such things as parties and celebrations. I am sure he knew the inner workings of the estate of his father. After all, his younger brother has already received his portion, which would have been smaller than the older brothers by law. Now, all the older brother has to do is work really hard for his dad, and whatever is left of the estate when dad dies, is ALL his. I’m sure the eldest brother was really toiling to build as much value for the estate as he possibly could- after all, he was investing in his own future at this point. So, he hears music and knows that whatever is taking place wasn’t on the itinerary for the day. No parties or celebrations were in the plans. If so, the sole heir to the estate would have assumed his proper place for the event- he wouldn’t be in the field- working during such an event.
He calls a servant to inquire, “What’s going on at the house?” And here he gets the devastating news, “Your brother has come home and your father has received him safe and sound- and the family, everyone, is celebrating his return” (Luke 15:26-27).
Oh, the elder brother was angry! “How dare that sorry rascal come home after devouring dad’s wealth with all forms of ungodliness.” He expressed to his father that he had never treated his dads good name and estate with contempt like the younger brother. And by the way, dad, you’ve never done anything for me (Luke 15:29-30).
It is so easy to lose sight of reality when we allow our emotions to guide our perception. I submit that this is what happened to the older brother. Instead of being logical, and taking into consideration that as the elder brother, he was to receive a double portion (Deuteronomy 21:17), he became bitter toward his father and his brother. Nothing the youngest son did was in any way going to affect his inheritance. The younger brother wasted the portion of goods that was due him- not his brother (Luke 15:12-13).
The father expressed to the eldest the reality that everything he had belonged to him (Luke 15:31). He also expressed that it was appropriate to celebrate the return of the lost boy. That which was dead, was now alive. It really was a victory to extol.
Many lessons are learned from this incredible account of one who broke the mold, and one who was broken in the mold. One was in the wrong place doing the wrong things and the other was in the right place doing the wrong things. While no one excuses the degradation and immorality the young man demonstrated, the attitude of the one who “never left the house” and “always did the right thing” was just as damning in the eyes of God. Also, one thing to note, we don’t get even the hint of a bad reaction from the father. He was dealing with a son. He told him the truth- but he didn’t meet the anger of the oldest with his own fury. I think there’s something to be said about that.
The eldest brother said “That sorry rascal came home.” And within the context of his reaction to the return of his brother we notice several things.
1. He thought because he obeyed the rules, he deserved the blessing.
It is typical of mankind to elevate ourselves above others. It is human nature to seek the “chief seat” or to exercise prominence. Especially when we do everything right. When we are the good boys and girls- we have a right to look down upon those who struggle with the rules. The older brother felt like he deserved a blessing or a party for doing what he should. This is fatal. The older brother failed to realize the immense blessing of his position in his father’s house. He failed to recognize the ability the father had to continue to care for his entire estate. The young son hadn’t run his father’s estate bankrupt. The father was in full control of his estate when he divided it and was in full control of his estate when he welcomed back his prodigal boy. Rule keeping isn’t going to cut it with God. Keeping rules is important, but is not the end all. God desires our hearts be right with him and our fellow man. He would have mercy and not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13). We must realize that even doing all we should, we are merely unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). The eldest son depended on dads continued grace every day, just as we depend on God’s grace daily. It is not about how much I think I accomplish for God! It is about how much I still owe Him.
2. His motive was to receive, not show love to his father
The driving force behind the actions and attitude of the older brother was envy. It was envy toward the reception of the sinner that drove him to refuse the proper response of love to his father. He thought because of his good standing within the house that he should receive some special treatment. God wants us all to know that our lives are about others- even sinners. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus was the perfect one- sinless- yet he tasted of death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). Jesus was the one who lived a perfect life- but came to minister to us- the sinners- and procured our way back to the father’s house (Matthew 20:28; John 14:6). A proper response to the “sorry rascal coming home” is to rejoice (Luke 15:10). We should rejoice over our Father receiving a lost one back that he has invested so much in (John 3:16; Romans 12:15). Make sure our motives are what they are suppose to be (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
3. He thought his brother’s sinfulness was unforgivable
Surly, that sorry rascal who treated our good name and hard-earned wealth with contempt, surely, he will never be welcomed back into this household. The fact that the younger son asked for his inheritance, from his father, was really out of the way. Aren’t inheritances typically left to children after the parent dies? The fact that the father could give his son any amount of inheritance to run through gives us an idea that the father had some sort of substantive wealth. The fact of this matter is that the brother who never left home didn’t understand how the father could forgive such a trespass. The Father always stands ready to forgive (2 Peter 3:9). It does not matter in what way one may have offended; forgiveness is possible. The same hands that were guilty of murdering His blessed Son, were forgiven on Pentecost added to the family, they were placed in the Fathers house (Acts 2:41,47; 1 Peter 2:5). We may never fully understand God’s love, but in this story, the father demonstrated his love for the lost one who returned. In like manner, God demonstrated His love to us in that while were sinners, filthy, immoral, ungodly, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God, like this father, stands ready to forgive, shall we?
While the older brother was in the right place, his heart was not. His heart was in the pig pin of sin although he was in his father’s house. The young man was yet in the pig pin, but his heart was at home.
I hope you can understand now, how important our hearts are in the scheme of things. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The heart of man is exactly what God is after. Let’s develop the kind of hearts that rejoice when the sorry rascal comes home. Our father has room enough, bread enough even to spare. After all, it is He that has given the open invitation (Matthew 11:28; Revelation 22:17).