Many Christians today are very vocal about certain sins, like homosexuality and abortion. They have focused on those two practices as particularly wrong and offensive. And they are wrong.
When I was growing up, my church was very vocal about drinking. There were certainly lots of other things that were condemned, but those two seemed to have a special spotlight on them. I was told there was a time when church-folks didn’t approve of eating out on Sunday or reading a newspaper before noon; many churches spoke out against “playing card games” or “face cards” and even going to the movies.
Religious people always seem to have at least a few things that seem especially wrong to them and that they speak out against. It seems to me that usually it is matters of indulgence, like sexual sins and drinking. It’s not usually injustice or self-righteousness.
I don’t know if you have a little list of things that you think are especially sinful or offensive, but I do know it’s very easy to read the parable in Luke 15 and really look down on the younger brother.
After all, he was guilty of “wild living” (v. 13), and according to the older brother, “squandering your property with prostitutes” (v. 30).
- The young man wasn’t happy at home. He was restless. He wanted more. And his restlessness led him to rebellion. He rebelled against his father and all his father stood for. Maybe you can understand that, maybe you’ve felt some of that restlessness yourself—not really happy with life as it is. Feeling obligated to Christianity but secretly resenting the pleasures it withholds from you. Be careful with those thoughts—they can lead to a country far, far away from the Father.
- So this son demanded his share of the inheritance, immediately. But since inheritances are given after the passing of the parents, his impertinent demand could be easily be construed as wishing his father were dead. But even if he didn’t actually want his father to be dead, it’s clear he didn’t really want his father—he just wanted his father’s stuff. Many a Christian wants the blessings of God far more than they want God himself. And many a Christian wants to go to heaven, not because the father is there but merely to avoid going to hell.
- So this son gathered his stuff together, left his rightful home and traveled to distant country, far, far away from his father’s watchful eye. He didn’t want to live under the guidance or perhaps he would have said “restraints” of his father. Going in our own way instead of God’s way, always includes distancing ourselves from our Father.
In that far country, the young son squandered his wealth. He wasted everything. With no apparent thought of what he’d do when he used it all up.
And he wasted it in wild, reckless living, indulging his appetites and pleasures. If his brother’s demeaning statement in v. 30 is accurate, his wild living included prostitutes.
Repentance: realization and return. But at some point his money ran out and a famine moved in, and he began to feel the pain of his folly. He was in need, so he took a job feeding pigs, which would have been humiliating, especially to any Jew, he was so hungry he wanted to eat the pigs’ food, but no one gave him anything. No one was there for him.
He had hit rock bottom. But his misery was a gift that led him to his senses and ultimately back to his father.
I believe this part of the parable is describing repentance. The young son’s miserable condition brought him to his senses and led to a change. He realized things had been better at home with his father and he wanted to go back. He realized he wasn’t worthy—that his father deserved a better son than him.
Reunion and reception. The reunion and reception that awaited him were beyond his wildest dreams. The message is that God is love. And his love is lavish. If we have wandered away from him, we can come home. That’s true whether we’ve cut him off completely or continued to attend church services while we also found ways to live pretty much as we please.
Our father really, really loves us. And he really, really wants us to come home. And yes, we do have to head back home, but when we do, we will be received with lavish love and grace. He will open wide his arms of love, and so will we, his people, his representatives, his church.
One lesson we often miss: the father likely had the resources to send servants out and force the younger son back…but IF he had done that, his son would not “really be back home.”
The ‘pain of free-will is that we must usually allow the willful sinner reach ‘rock bottom’ so they will also come to their senses and truly choose to come home!
But we must allow time to look at the sins of the elder son/brother. It’s so easy to see the younger son sins that we may not even notice that the older brother was also a sinner.
One scholar did a careful analysis of the ingredients of the older brother’s words in the parable and found:
- Anger (v. 28). I don’t believe anger is always wrong, but I believe this anger is wrong. The reason he’s angry is that his little brother has come home, and his father is throwing a lavish feast to celebrate his return. I’m pretty sure that is not righteous anger.
- Disrespect of his father
- Refused to enter the feast
- Argued with his father about what he was doing
- Distorted relationship with his father (slaving and never disobeying orders, v. 29)
- In appropriate expectations of his father (never gave me a goat to celebrate with my friends, v. 29)
- Lack of love and concern for his brother (You’d think he would be glad his brother had returned, but he wasn’t, “this son of yours” (v. 30))
So he was clearly sinful two, there are two dons lost in this parable. But let me ask you, honestly, do his sins seem as bad to you as the younger brother’s wild living? If you were going to go on a tirade against sin, would you be more likely to call out wild living and prostitution or anger, disrespect, and distorted relationships?
As one person put it, the younger brother was guilty of sins of the body, sins of passion, and the older brother was guilty of sins of disposition. Which seems worst to you? And could it have anything to do with what sins we ourselves may or may not be guilty of?
Let’s take it one step further. What if we think about this not merely in terms of disrespecting our fathers but disrespecting our Father in heaven? What if God were throwing a party to celebrate something and you refused to come.
Not just you didn’t show up, but you refused to attend on principle, under protest. That’s not only disrespect, that’s extreme presumption. That is way too high of an opinion of ourselves.
So have we ever done that? Well, we probably haven’t ever refused to attend some official celebration. But what about our attitude toward people who do wrong and then ask for forgiveness.
Have you ever known someone who did something you thought was really wrong and then showed up at church and asked for forgiveness, and the leadership forgave them, but you weren’t sure they ought to get off that easy?
Maybe you took the line that they should at least have to bear some consequences? Isn’t that pretty similar to the attitude of the brother here? But if God is merciful toward such people and showers them with lavish love, with no scolding, no crossed arms, no I told you sos, no penance, shouldn’t we have the same attitude? But if, in contrast, we demand that they pay, aren’t we being disrespectful to our father?
And to expose our sinful hearts even more, have you ever not only resented a person being forgiven and getting attention but mixed in there somewhere had a secret wish that you could do some of the same things they did and “get away with it,” like you think they are?
And do you ever feel your relationship with God has a lot to do with you “slaving for him and never disobeying his orders”? How do you think God feels about that?
Is that the kind of relationship you think he wants with us? How would you feel if you overheard one of your children describe you as a parent to their friends by saying “you have to work for them all the time and you better not ever disobey them.” What if they thought that was the essence of their relationship with you?
And what expectations do you have of God? Maybe not a goat to celebrate with your friends, but maybe certain rights and protections and benefits and blessings. Have you ever felt you were being cheated because some job or dispute or opportunity didn’t go your way, even though you always slave away for God and never disobey his orders?
My point in all of this is to try to help us see that the older brother is a sinner too. This is a parable about 2 Sons Lost, not just one.
But once we’ve seen that, there’s really good news: God is full of love for us even if we’ve done those sorts of things too. Even if most of our sins have been sins of disposition or attitude. Did you notice God went out to the older brother too? (v. 28). He wants him to be at the feast too. He wants him to be in the house too.
No, he didn’t throw a feast for him, nor did he run out and cover him with kisses, but remember the older son hadn’t had a change of heart either. At this point in the story, the older son is a sinner and he hasn’t shown any signs of repentance, yet the father goes out to him too.
Timothy Keller says for the most part younger brothers are not attracted to churches. Keller says that Jesus consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day, but that our churches do essentially the opposite: we attract the religious folks and repel the irreligious.
And Keller says that can only mean one thing. And then he gives a quote that really disturbed me: If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our members do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the message Jesus did.
If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.
That’s worth all of us taking time this week to make certain it is less true more and more.