Sermon Prodigal God Week 5
Sunday August 26, 2012.
The True Elder Brother
Everything I Have Is Yours
Luke 15:1-6, 25-32
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’……….
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
We have been looking at the story traditionally called “The Parable of the Prodigal
Son.” We’ve said that you will miss the radical message of the story if you don’t see that it is about two sons—one immoral and “bad”, one very moral and “good”—who are both alienated from the father and therefore spiritually lost. That is a remarkable message.
But there is much more—though it too is easy to miss. We must remember that this is the third of three parables, told to the same audience, meant to be pondered all together. What do we learn if we do that? We learn: 1) the cost of reconciliation, 2) that there is a missing elder brother, and 3) that we have a true elder brother.
1. The cost of reconciliation—verses 29-31.
What did it cost to bring the younger brother home?
At first glance, it seems not to have cost anything. The wayward son comes home. His Father sees him coming and simply welcomes him back. There is no punishment from the Father for this sinner son—this son is just taken in. The father opens his arms, puts new clothes on him, and that’s that. It’s free.
However, this is a limited view of how reconciliation works with God. It is a great mistake to believe that reconciliation between a perfect and holy God and incomplete idol making sinners is free for all concerned. The reconciliation is free to the younger brother. But it is very costly for someone else.
The elder brother knows this. The elder brother is furious with the father for receiving his younger brother back into the family (Like Jonah was mad at God for forgiving those terrible, but repentant Ninevites!). The elder brother alludes to it when he says, “you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But… you kill the fattened calf for him!” The elder brother is angry because of the cost of this reconciliation.
Remember—the father had given the younger brother his entire legal part of the inheritance. And it was all spent—all gone.
Yet now the father is restoring this wayward son back into the family – and the families wealth. The Father has already put a robe on him, and given him a ring, which was probably the signet ring with which family members ratified contracts. The younger brother’s fair share of the wealth is all gone, but now he is back, and every robe, ring, fatted calf is coming out of someone else’s pocket.
Everything the father has, now is legally the elder brother’s. He is the only heir of all the father has left. So every robe, every ring, every fattened calf, every cent of the father’s, is ultimately the elder brother’s. When the father says to the elder brother, “everything I have is yours” (v.31) he is speaking the literal truth.
So the salvation of the younger son is not free after all. It has already been extremely expensive— look at the feast. It will be extremely expensive. The father cannot forgive the younger brother, except at the expense of the elder brother. The elder brother then is the one who must bear the cost of the reconciliation.
2. There is a missing elder brother—verses 1-10.
The elder brother knows all this—that forgiveness and reconciliation is never free. Someone has to pay. The younger brother actually knew this too. Remember how when he “came to his senses” while yearning to eat the pig slops he hatched a plan to return to some sort of better life. He wanted to become a hired workman on the Father’s farm. He knew that the Father could not just accept him back in without there being some reparation, some cost to someone – like if a person steals something from another person, even if the person repents and is forgiven by the one he stole from, he still needs to “make things right” by giving the person back the item or making sure the person is not disadvantaged in any way. In this way justice to truly complete and reconciliation reached.
So, in this parable, either the younger brother has to come and earn his way back into the family, as he offered to do (see verse 19) or he can come back in immediately, through forgiveness, and then the elder brother will have to bear the cost. Salvation cannot be free. Someone has to pay, either the sinner or his elder brother.
Unfortunately, as we know, the elder brother knows this but refuses to pay the cost for the younger brother’s reconciliation to the family. So we listen to the story and see the elder brother “being a Pharisee,” and we are saddened. But that is not where Jesus wants our minds and hearts to remain.
Jesus told his listeners three parables together—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In each of the first two parables there is a lost object and someone who goes out, searches for it, and brings it home with joy. The shepherd searches until he finds the lost sheep. The woman searches until she finds the lost coin. So when we get to the parable of this lost son, the listeners fully expect that someone will set out to search for the lost brother and bring him home.
To our surprise, no one does. No one goes searching for the lost younger son. Jesus is leading us to ask, who should have gone out to search for this lost boy? And the answer would have been quite clear to 1st century listeners: it should have been the elder brother.
That was the reason that the oldest son got the lion’s share of the estate. It was his job to sustain the family’s unity and its place in the community. It is the elder brother in the parable who should have said something like this: “Father, my younger brother has been a fool, and now his life is in ruins. But I will go look for him and bring him home. And if the inheritance is gone—as I expect—I’ll bring him back into the family at my expense.”
Jesus doesn’t put a brother like that into the story. Instead the younger son and the father have to deal with a recalcitrant, resistant, self-righteous elder brother. But we don’t. The elder brother in the story is there to make us long for a true elder brother, one who, if we go astray, won’t hold it against us but seek us and bring us back at any risk and any cost to himself.
3. We have a true elder brother.
Think of the kind of elder brother we need. Because we are lost and cannot find God on our own. Because we have this sickness that brings us to constantly relying on just about anything and anyone (inclusing ourselves0 other than God for our well-being, our fulfilment in life, our direction in life, our meaning as human beings…..We need an elder brother who would not just go into a far country, but who would come all the way from heaven to earth to find us.
We need one who would not just open his wallet for us, but pour out his life. One who would pay not just a finite cost but an infinite debt, to bring us back into God’s family.
Friends, you have one! We have Jesus of Nazareth, the one telling us this parable to reveal his heart for us and with us, not against us.
See! When the father says to the elder brother “everything I have is yours” that is literally true of Jesus. Jesus had all God’s glory. He had equal glory with the Father, but he emptied himself (Philippians 2:4-10.) He lost it all—for us.
How do we get the father’s robe? Because Jesus was stripped naked on the cross.
How do we get the father’s feast? Because Jesus took the cup of wrath that might have the cup of joy.
He is our true elder brother—and he says so. Hebrews 2:11 says,
“Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers’.”
Jesus came to earth and truly obeyed his Father and never disobeyed his orders.
He truly had the right to all the Father owns. But instead, he came out and searched for us, and found us in the pigsty, and carried us home on his shoulders singing with joy.
And he gave us his robe, his ring, his place, his wealth—it is all at his expense.
Are we melted and moved by the extravagant and deeply self-sacrificing love and commitment God has for us?
To the extent that we receive him, we will be true elder brother for each other.