In our prior feature lesson, we considered the beginning of the parable of the lost son. The younger son had foolishly taken his inheritance, left home, and wasted everything living in sin. However, it wasn't long before he was suffering and lacking for food. No one cared for him in his present location. He came to his senses and realized that he'd be better off as a servant of his father than in his present state. So, he leaves the far country and heads for home with that hope in mind.
The parable continues in Luke 15:20-24:
"And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry."
"His father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). Here we see the younger son taking action. It is one thing to talk about repenting, but it is another thing to actually change and turn from sin. He turned and left the far country and returned home. Thus, repentance is here pictured as a journey and not just an emotion or impulse.
The younger son returned to a father who was kind, forgiving, and loving. Certainly this is a wonderful description of our longsuffering and understanding heavenly Father. The father saw him and had compassion on him in his ragged, pitiful condition. He ran (showing his eagerness) to greet him joyously and welcome him warmly with an embrace, as if he had been a model son.
It's obvious that the father had been watching for him. He was hopeful that his son would return someday. The father never tried to force the son's return, but when the son chose to return, the father lovingly received him. They have been reunited and there is about to be a restoration of their relationship!
When one has personal conviction as to what he must do, the sooner he takes action the better. The longer a person stays in sin (i.e., in the "far country"), the weaker he becomes and the more difficult it is to repent (i.e., make the journey home). Tragically, many never return to God; they perish in the "far country."
In Luke 15:21, the son begins confessing to his father as he had planned to. However, the father appears to interrupt him before he finishes. The warmth of his father's welcome was probably not expected, but this does not deter him from confessing his sins. The son was hopeful that his father would accept him as a servant. Certainly he would be surprised by what the father says next.
Before his son confessed, the father was willing to greet him lovingly. After the confession, the father wanted to welcome him as his son once again. The father does not rebuke him or tell him, "I told you so." Instead, he commands his servants to clothe him with the best robe, put sandals on his feet, and put a ring on his finger. All of these physical blessings should be understood as representing the restoration and forgiveness of the son. The son was a new man because of his repentance, and the honorable attire that he was given signifies this.
It should be noted that sin had left its mark on this young man (as it always does in one way or another). He came home in terrible physical condition, not to mention the memories he had made which he would always regret and never completely forget.
"And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry" (Luke 15:23). The father is so glad to have his son back home. In addition to providing for his son's physical attire, the father commands that the fatted calf be slaughtered. Truly, this was a joyous occasion and a very special day. Anytime one repents, it should be a joyous occasion (cf. 15:7,10)!
"And they began to be merry" (Luke 15:24). They are rejoicing because his son had been "dead" but was now "alive again"; he had been "lost" but was now "found." Notice that the father is still willing to call him his son, even after his foolish, sinful behavior. While the son was away, he was lost and dead (to the father). But, now he is alive again and the father wants to celebrate with a feast! The spiritual meaning is clear: A return to God, our Father, brings life and joyful celebration, but, when one lives in sin, he is dead (i.e., separated from God; cf. Rom. 6:13; Eph. 2:1).
So, the primary lesson of the first portion of the parable is that God not only accepts penitent sinners, He earnestly desires their salvation! This is what Jesus was doing (cf. Luke 15:2), but the scribes and Pharisees just didn't understand that God's kingdom is a place for forgiven people!
It is important to remember that the older son represents the scribes and Pharisees. We are about to see their attitude expressed through the older son's words and actions in Jesus' parable.
Luke 15:25-32 records the conclusion to this parable:
"Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.' But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."
It is obvious that the older son wasn't lazy. He had been out about his father's business. However, we soon learn that he seemed to be doing it out of resentment and not out of love (cf. 15:29). He heard the music and knew that something had happened.
The older son asks a servant what is going on (instead of going in and investigating for himself, which he certainly had the right to do as a member of the family). The servant informs him that his brother had returned "safe and sound" and that they were celebrating that fact.
"He was angry and would not go in" (Luke 15:28). The older brother is full of wrath because of his father's reception of the younger, prodigal son. He refuses to go in and celebrate with them, even after the father pleads with him to do so (likewise, the scribes and Pharisees would not heed Jesus' pleading to them through these parables). The older son was bitter, unwilling to forgive, and empty of compassion (as were the scribes and Pharisees).
The older brother should have rejoiced at this news (like everyone else) and made a special effort to go to his younger brother and encourage him. At the very least he should have investigated to see if his brother had turned from his sinful living, instead of just automatically rejecting him because of his past mistakes. Dear friends, when one is brought to repentance we must rejoice with God and exhort them or be guilty of sin ourselves! God always forgives His penitent children, regardless of whether or not we do.
8. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS & RESENTMENT
"Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends" (Luke 15:29). Here the older son shows his improper attitude. He attempts to justify himself by saying: "Look what I have done for you father, but what have you ever done for me to show your appreciation? I've basically been your slave, but you've never given me a party like this with a young goat, much less a fatted calf!" The older brother is self-righteous and claims to have never been disobedient. Obviously, this is a lie (especially since he refused to yield to his father's pleading at that very moment)! The elder brother is very proud of himself and is disappointed in his father and brother.
Today, some have adopted this attitude of self-righteousness. They believe they are better than others. They believe they've earned spiritual privileges from God (including their salvation; cf. Eph. 2:8,9). These sort of individuals will serve the Lord, but they will do so with an improper heart (and a lot of complaining). They will serve out of resentment and not out of love.
The older brother says that the younger brother spent his inheritance on harlots (cf. Luke 15:30). He evidently viewed such a sin as unforgivable, probably because he had never engaged in such immorality himself. Tragically, he does not even refer to him as his younger brother but only as "this son of yours."
Although the older brother thinks he has been treated unfairly, he is incorrect. The joyful welcome extended to the younger brother had nothing to do with rewarding him with what he deserved. The warm reception was necessary to celebrate the fact that a member of the family had truly come back.
"Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours" (Luke 15:31). The older brother had counted this privilege as nothing, or worse, as slavery. All of the father's riches were constantly at his older son's disposal. If he hadn't received any real enjoyment out of them, then he was the one to blame, not the father. Likewise spiritually it should not be a burden to serve God. We should rejoice to have the blessings that we do in Christ and use them to the Father's glory.
The father's actions were justified, which he tries to explain to the elder son in Luke 15:32 (cf. 15:24; Prov. 15:1,2). He still had access to all the blessings of his father, so why should he complain if his father was compassionate toward his younger brother?
Dear listeners, we must carefully guard ourselves against this attitude today. God is sovereign and He will be compassionate toward whom He will (and He wills to be compassionate toward those who repent; cf. Luke 13:3). It is not unfair on His part to accept those who repent and rejoice over them.
Isn't it sad that the Jewish leaders, by virtue of their familiarity with the law, were in a favored position to serve Jehovah, yet they were less receptive to the Savior than the common sinners (cf. Matt. 21:31)? However, we should notice that although the older brother had a sinful attitude, the Father still loved him and offered him the opportunity to come in to the festivities. No matter how stubborn man becomes, God's invitation is still open.
In considering these three parables of Luke 15 together, it is worthwhile to observe that the sheep became lost unintentionally, the coin accidentally, and the son intentionally. Of course, in all three cases God still rejoiced over the restoration! Today there will be some who fall away through carelessness or neglect (cf. the lost sheep parable). They may come to realize they are lost but do not know the way home. Such individuals need our help and support. There are others who are not aware that they are lost (cf. the lost coin parable). They will never be brought to repentance unless we seek them out and bring them the saving gospel message. There are still others who know their condition but just don't care, at least not right now (cf. the lost son parable). They've chosen to live rebelliously; all we can do is exhort them to repent and be ready to accept them back with open arms if they do turn from their wickedness.
In all of these cases, self-righteousness will deaden our concern for the lost and cause us to become bitter and selfish. May we never deceive ourselves with a mere "outward religion" while being inwardly empty and separated from the Father.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.