The Gospel According to Luke: Part 42 :: By Dr. Donald Whitchard

An Exposition

Luke 15:25-32: “The World’s Most Beloved Short Story, Part 2”

“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be. And he said, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in, and the father came out and began entreating him.

“But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours, and yet you have never given me a young goat that I might be merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

“And he said to him, ‘My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost, and has been found'” (Luke 15;25-32, NASB).

When we read the other part of this otherwise wondrous tale of love and forgiveness on the part of a grateful father that his wayward child had come home, we wonder why Jesus even bothered to present the other son. This son, at first glance, has a bad case of “sour grapes.” He seems to be doing nothing more than complaining and whining about the situation. What gives here? As the parable comes to an unresolved conclusion, Jesus shows that this older brother, who seemed to be walking in righteousness and adherence to the expectations of the father, was just as much a prodigal as was his younger brother, who had lived a life of debauchery but was now home, repentant and welcomed back into the graces of his father.

Let us examine some characteristics of the older son and the true state of his relationship with the father:

He is at work in the field. At first, this does not seem to be out of the ordinary, but if one thinks about this scene, we detect that there is no real connection with the father by this son. He does his job, but with no real sense of joy or an underlying desire to please his father due to the love a faithful child has for a parent. He approaches the house and hears music and people having a joyous time. Asking a servant why this is taking place, he receives the news that his wayward brother has returned home. This should be a time for him to share in the joy of the occasion. His attitude shows otherwise, and it will boil into a verbal conflict with the father.

If there had been any closeness and affection by the older son towards his brother, it had been shattered due to his brother’s rebellious and arrogant attitude when he demanded his share of the family fortune and left all that he knew behind. This, no doubt, infuriated the older son, and what concern and relationship for his brother he had were essentially cast aside and, in his mind, was dead to him and the rest of the family. He oversaw everything now, and this added responsibility infuriated him within his soul. What also got under his skin was the attitude of the father in letting this situation develop in the first place. The father had every right at that time to not just punish this ungrateful, arrogant boy, but to have him stoned to death by the town elders for his disobedience and rebellion as written in the Law (Exodus 21:15; Leviticus 20:9, Deut. 21:18-21).

This son, who had stayed on the land, now began to alienate himself from the father who had allowed this to happen. He was angry with both him and his brother for what he perceived as a travesty of justice. His inner rage and growing resentment towards the whole episode were quietly suppressed but would eventually come to the surface when he heard what sounded like a celebration in the house. He found out through a servant that the party was for none other than the rebellious son who had returned home.

What? This little brat who defied everything that was held sacred and honorable was now being given a party? This was intolerable! His father was welcoming this son back with love, forgiveness, and reinstatement of his status within the family. What the older brother failed to hear, due to his refusal to come inside, was that this young man had returned in a state of genuine sorrow and repentance for the grief he had put his family through all this time and was now receiving the affection that he did not deserve, yet was graciously bestowed upon him. This made absolutely no sense whatsoever, and the older boy now let out his pent-up anger over the whole affair.

The exchange that occurred between this son and his father shows something that many of us might tend to miss. The son approaches him in a disrespectful manner, just as his brother had done in demanding his inheritance. He has an attitude problem that shows he has a distant, if not altogether absent, relationship towards the father. This older son was a prodigal in the sense that he had wandered far from any affection or concern for the father. He was doing his work as a matter of expected duty, not from a mindset of devotion, and he makes reference to this when he reminds the father of the work he had done and that he has dutifully obeyed the commandments the father had established.

Remember that the original audience that heard this parable was not only the common population, but that the high religious officials, the Pharisees, were there as well, and were no doubt in agreement with the complaints of the older brother. They had obeyed the laws of God and kept to a strict interpretation of what they believed was obedience to Him.

Somewhere along the way, this had become a matter of routine, religious observation and an absence of love for God that had been a part of their heritage and authentic worship, but now were approaching God with an indifferent, disrespectful attitude, citing their merits instead of approaching Him with a sense of devotion, love, and humbleness. Jesus would tell a parable about this lack of reverence by a self-righteous Pharisee and the cry for mercy of a truly penitent man as they were praying in the Temple (Luke 18:9-14). Before we wag our finger at what this Pharisee did and shame his words, remember that we have done the exact same thing at times in our journey with the LORD.

We tend to remind Him at times of all we have done for Him, and in the process, get full of ourselves and lose the real love and devotion we had for Him. We do the work of the LORD and neglect the LORD of the work. Jesus Himself had to reprimand the church at Ephesus of this very thing (Revelation 2:1-7). We need to repent and return to our first love, just as the younger son had done when he came back home, and what the Pharisees had to learn as well as they listened to Jesus’ story. The older son, however, continued to show the contempt he had harbored by further complaining. He essentially was whining when he started telling his father that he deserved and was entitled to a time for merriment. He demanded from the father the means by which he should enjoy himself.

Let us examine this as it applies to today.

Is this not the brazen and outright arrogant attitude we witness from the false teachers and wolves in our midst today? They have the unmitigated gall to tell us that we have the authority to work out one-sided deals with the Sovereign LORD and demand that our desires and wants are to be granted by Him as if He were some kind of butler. These thieves show absolutely no fear, love, or gratitude towards God or His gift of salvation and mercy through the cross. There is also no desire to serve Him nor submit to His leadership and direction. There are far too many instances and examples of this blatant disrespect and lack of reverence towards the Holy One by them and those who follow their blasphemous and degrading lifestyle and teachings. It will not end well for them on the Day of Judgment.

The complaint by the older son is an indirect warning from Jesus to the Pharisees that they are showing this attitude and need to repent and come back to the love of God. The tragedy is that their hatred for Jesus and desire to get rid of Him shows that they had shut their minds and hearts to any reconciliation and relationship to God that they tended to outwardly confess. Jesus concludes this parable by switching our attention to the attitude and graciousness of the father, who obviously represents the Heavenly Father and His feelings towards His people. It should have been clear to everyone there, especially the Pharisees, that neither son deserved anything due to their prodigal behavior and bad attitude towards their father.

They forgot that he had been their source of the privileges they took for granted as well as a role model of patience, obvious love and authentic concern. He continually demonstrated this in his reaction to each of his son’s reprehensible behaviors. The father does not show anger or the desire to punish them. He shows each of them undeserved mercy and that he was ready to welcome them back into his loving embrace and to assure them that they would be a part of the family for all time. In his remarks to the older son, the father is saying to him that he would have given the same party and honor to him if he had gone to the far country, only to return humble and repentant as did his younger brother.

What a wonderful portrait of the love of God for His crown jewel of creation! This story represents us and our sinful, arrogant attitude, having an inward desire to get as far away as we can from any relationship or expectation that the Sovereign LORD has for us if we will but bow the knee to Him. We do not want to hear anything from Him, and we show our wicked and stubborn behavior every day by thinking that we have everything under control and that we do not need Him. Circumstances are all too clear that the condition in which the world finds itself refutes that self-centered mindset. We have absolutely no way of correcting the situation in our own strength, nor can we ever redeem ourselves due to our wicked, corrupt nature of which the Scriptures clearly present (Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-18), like it or not.

Through the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins and the ONLY means of redemption given by God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:15, 2:5; Hebrews 7:25), we can have our sins forgiven and cast aside for all time (Psalm 103:11-12), and we will be given a place in heaven with Him for all time (Revelation, Chapters 21, 22). Do not let this opportunity to come home to the mercy and love of God pass you by, as there is no guarantee that we will be here tomorrow (James 4:13-15). This is the time, here and now, to be reconciled with God through surrendering your life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (2 Corinthians 6:2; Philippians 2:9-11). Leave the pigpen of sin behind and come home to the loving embrace of our great God and Savior. He is waiting with the robe, ring, and party.