Prodigals: The Father
Now his elder son was in the field:and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in:therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment:and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad:for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found
Tonight, we are going to finish our little mini-series on the story of the Prodigal Son. So far, we’ve focused on God’s grace and mercy. We were the prodigal, and at every point the Father has shown us amazing mercy and grace. That’s the wonderful part of this story.
But that's not all of this story.
But there is one more element, and one more character that we can relate to in this story - and I think he may be the main character - although he usually gets ignored: The older brother.
The story closes with the older brother, confronting the father. There is no resolution. It doesn't close with the Father making up with the older brother. It doesn't close with the older brother hugging his brother and going into the feast. It closes with a tension. It closes in the older brother's court.
Why is that? Have you ever thought about why this is such an open ended story?
Every story has a context and the context of this one is important. So look with me at chapter 15 verse 1.
"Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them"
So this verse tells us two things about the context of this story.
1st, it tells us about the audience of the story - who was it? The Pharisees.
You do remember who the Pharisees were don't you? This morning, Dr. Reichman kept talking about the "hassidic" jews. The hassidic jews is the modern day name for the Pharisees. They were extremely religious people who lived by the letter of the law. They memorized all five books of the Torah. Did you notice this morning that, when Dr. Riechman was talking about the sabbath, that he said that they waited until 6:30 to light their candle. Why 6:30? when the sabbath was over at 6?
Another thing he said was that in these Hassidic families you often have separate kitchens for meat and dairy. I asked him why? There is one phrase in the old testament that says "don't seethe a kid in his mother's milk." That's it. It doesn't say "don't cook meat in milk" it certainly doesn't say "keep meat and milk separate" but the Pharisees have taught that, just to be careful, you have to keep them separated and today, it's gone so far that you have families literally building matching kitchens so they never even have the milk and the meat in the same room.
That's the Pharisees.
It reminds me of an illustration I've heard many times before. Many times I've heard the illustration of a stage coach and a cliff. The story goes that a king was looking for a new stage coach driver and held tryouts. He told the drivers to drive near a treacherous piece of road with a cliff. The drivers started making it a contest to see who could get the closest to the cliff edge. But one stage coach rider stayed as far away from the cliff as he could and he got the job.
What's the lesson of that story? Err on the side of caution. Obeying God's laws aren't enough - you have to go even further. That's the lesson. The cliff is seething a kid in it's mothers milk - so the Pharisees wont even eat meat that's been on the same plate as a dairy product. The cliff is that the Sabbath is over at 6pm, but the Pharisees say "Let's go to 6:30 just to be safe." Do you get it?
And let me just say this - life's not a cliff. It's more like a bridge. And if you stay too far from one edge, you'll end up going over the other.
Well, what does this have to do with the older brother? What does this have to do with the story of the prodigal son?
The moral of the story is hinted at in verse 1 too. You see, Jesus was telling this story to confront a problem. The problem was that the Pharisees were thinking low of Jesus because He was hanging out with publicans and sinners. He was hanging out with people who weren't church people.
And their sneer, their attitude was "we are better than Jesus because we are separated and we won't hang out with those sinners."
And in that context Jesus tells this story.
So, think about it again. And think about the people hearing it. They are a religious crowd. They are extremely observant of all of the religious customs.
They've been hearing this story about the boy who demanded his inheritance. I asked Dr. Reichman about this over lunch and he said that the jewish response would have been to stone him. The pharisees would have stoned this younger brother.
Then he goes off and wastes his living with harlots. They would have stoned him for that too.
Then he eats from the pig trough - and now it's gone too far. He is beyond unclean.
He is a father-dishonoring, sexually immoral, swine herd. He's about as low as you can go in the eyes of the Pharisees.
But then Jesus talks about the older brother. He's upright. He never left his father's side. He's observed all of the rules. He's been the good son.
If there was a person in this story who the Pharisees could identify with - it would be this older son. That was them: Scrupulous, devout, hard-working.
And that's exactly what Jesus was trying to do with this story. I think He was trying to aim this right at the heart of these Pharisees.
What I want to do tonight is give you four points about the older brother, and as we look at these, remember, this is religious people. This isn't the guy who is living hard and loose. This is for the guy who comes to church on a Sunday night. This is for you. This is for me.
Ok. So the first thing is...
One of the obvious things about this story is that the older brother does not have a very warm relationship with his father. There are several clues to this:
First, it would have been the older brother's job to put together a party like this. This older brother was never included - which probably meant something was up in the family.
Second, notice the way that he talks to the father and says "this thy son." There is no respect whatsoever in this older brother.
Third, when he complains he says "You never gave me a calf so I could make merry with..." who? The family? You? No, my friends.
This older brother does not have a good relationship with his father. Not at all.
Do you a lot of religious people might be doing all they can to meet the heavenly father's criteria - but they don't really have a love for their father. They don't really have a relationship with their father. There religion is cold and distant.
I think it even goes further here - I think the older brother really hated his father. He resented his father. He was just trying to use His father.
Which brings me to the second point:
Notice what the elder brother says to His father:
"Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment:and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends"
The word "serve" there is actually a strong word. It carries the idea of "slaving for you."
Now, think about this. Think about it. How does this son view his father? As a slavemaster. He wants his father's property and he's willing to work for it but he resents his father and views him as a slave master.
So the elder brother is really after the same thing the younger brother is after - he's after his father's property - but the elder brother is getting it by works and the younger brother got it by demanding it. They are both just using the father to get what they are after. One of them is just doing it in a way society thinks is respectable and other isn't. But at the heart - it's both the same.
Do you know there are plenty of people who go to church and do good not because they love God but because they love themselves. They do it because it's respectable. They do it because it works out better for them. They do it because it helps their business.
They don't love God - they view God like a computer program. They put in the right things and they get out what they want. They view God like a gauntlet that they have to run through.
Ever talk to a guy about his job and you ask him how he likes it and he's like "err - it's a paycheck." They don't love their job - they love what their job gives them - and that's the way many religious people are. They may be squeaky clean on the outside but they are just that way because they want something and when they don't get it that's when the real them comes out.
It's works based righteousness.
You see something else about this older brother and it's true of religious people too. You see...
This older brother hated grace.