I just finished reading a book entitled ‘The Prodigal God’, it is written by Timothy Keller. The book is rich, convicting, and yeah I enjoyed it. The book talks about the parable of ‘The Two Lost Sons’ (Luke 15:11-32). It’d be sweet if you can take a moment to read or reread the passage.
Okay, so basically the story is about a father who had two sons. The younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, received it, and promptly left for a far country, where he wasted it all on worldly and frivolous pleasure. He returned home apologetically and his father welcomed him in love. This angered the elder brother greatly. The story closes with the father appealing to his firstborn son to join in the welcome and forgiveness of his younger brother. Yeah, that’s pretty much how the story goes. Many people focuses too much on the story of God’s unconditional love towards the younger brother, where there is also an equally important point being missed out. The elder brother’s self-righteousness and keep-all-laws behavior can destroy his relationship with God.
There are two kinds of people: elder brother and younger brother. Most of the time, the oldest siblings are parent pleaser; the ones who listen to what their parents told them to do. And, the younger siblings are the ones who rebel and prefer the company of peers, they like to “leave home” and do the things that please themselves. In other words, the elder brothers are the law-keeperand the younger brothers are engaged in “wild living”.
In Luke 15, the younger brother goes off to “a far country” and squanders everything he receives through an out-of-control lifestyle. Of course, he is broke in no time. He then plans to return home, apologize to his Father, and ask his father to make him like one of his hired men because he realized he had lost the right to be His son. Surprisingly, when his Father sees him returning, He runs and welcomes His son with open arms! He even holds a feast to celebrate the returning of His son.
That illustrates God’s unconditional love to His children, to us. Timothy Keller puts it beautifully; he said, “God’s love and forgiveness can pardon and restore any and every kind of sin or wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you’ve deliberately oppressed or even murdered people, or how much you’ve abused yourself. There is no evil that the Father’s love cannot pardon and cover, there is no sin that is a match for His grace.”
Now let us then focus on the elder brother. If you are in the elder brother’s shoes, how will you respond? Will you be furious? Jealous? Or will you rejoice with your Father? Here, the elder brother responded by saying: ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:29-30) In other words, the elder brother is saying: “I have never disobeyed you! Now you have to do things in my life the way I want them to be done!” The elder brother did not love the Father for Himself; he was using the Father for his own self-centered purposes rather than serving Him out of love. It is like doing things by the rule, obeying, but not for the rightreasons. In fact, the only motive is to put God in a position where the elder brothers think He owes them. They want to take control of God, demanding Him to bless them because they have worked very hard to obey all the laws. The elder brothers are serving as their own savior. Elder brothers obey God to get things.
The elder brother is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it. It is not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the Father. “Sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge… There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and one is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good.”
We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need for a Savior, our true, genuine, elder brother, Jesus Christ. He is the true elder brother we need; He came all the way from heaven to earth to find us who are lost. He paid the infinite cost of His own life to bring us into God’s family. And we undeservedly receive it for free by grace. Forgiveness is free and unconditional to the perpetrator, but it is costly to Him. And the cost is priceless.
Both brothers are wrong, both brothers loved, and both brothers are called to realize and make an effort to change. When I read the parable, I honestly never focus on the elder brother until I read the book and realize: Man, I am one of the elder brothers. By keeping the laws, not doing any ‘major’ sins (HA, as if we can quantify sins…), and simply being ‘good’ in my own way, which is not good at all, I thought I was ‘right’ enough. God does not want us to work for our salvation; we just have to receive it by His grace and through our faith. Well, I believe that the first step to every change is the realization for a need to change. And, of course, help from the Father.
So, which one are you?
Wrong and loved,