************ Sermon on Luke 15:25-32 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 3, 2006
"The Other Lost Son"
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were upset with and muttering against Jesus. They didn't like it that Jesus was welcoming sinners and eating with them. A Pharisee would never do such a thing. You see, to have contact with tax collectors and sinners is to contaminate oneself with their impurity and, thus, to be made unfit for temple or synagogue worship.
Scripture tells us that the tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus in order to "hear him." These outcasts found in Jesus someone Who did not despise and reject them; how different they found Jesus to be from the Pharisees with their cold, hard religion. They found Jesus to have a searching love for the lost and lone and hurting.
In order to silence the complaints of the Pharisees, Jesus said 3 parables: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, and the parable that we have in front of us this morning. Jesus tells us this morning that the seeking grace of God wants the joy of all people repenting from their sins and becoming children of God – including the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Usually, in looking at the parable in front of us, all the focus is put on the youngest son, the prodigal. Today, however, I would like to direct our attention to the older son. Too many times, I'm afraid, this older son has been wrongly held up as the hero or good guy of our story. Too many times, people have failed to notice that the father of our parable has two lost sons, and that both sons need to be sought and found.
I The Oldest Son is Also Lost
A You all know the story of the younger son. He asked his father for his share of the inheritance. Rightfully, this belonged to him only after his father died. By asking what he did, he was expressing his wish for his father's early death. His father, being a kind and loving man, gives him his share. Not long after, the younger son left home to engage in riotous living.
After some time had passed, this son decides to return home to his father because he was broke and poor and hungry. He hoped his father would have mercy on him and would receive him as a servant. He knew he didn't deserve even this, but he knew his father to be gracious and loving.
The father, who must have been waiting and watching for his son day after day, saw him coming while he was still a long way off.
(Lk 15:20) [The father] was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Not only did the son come back home, but he even confessed his sins.
(Lk 15:21) Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.How beautiful it is when a sinner confesses his sins, repents of his evil, and asks for forgiveness. The father sees and hears his son; he is filled with joy and commands a great feast of celebration. Of course he does,
(Lk 15:24) For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
B Now we come to the other lost son, the oldest son. In the middle of the celebrations he returns from the field where he has been working. He hears music and dancing, and probably smells the cooking meat. Right away he knows a big party is in progress, that food is being served, that guests have arrived.
One would expect the older son to immediately enter the house, eager to participate in the festivities. But he does not rush in as expected. Instead, he demands an explanation. From a servant he finds out that his brother has come back home, that his brother has lost his share of the estate, and that his father is throwing a party because he is so overjoyed at his brother's return and repentance. The older brother hears all this, becomes angry, and refuses to enter the house.
What can we say about this? Obviously, the older son does not share his father's joy. He is not at all happy that his brother has returned home alive and well. He is not rejoicing at his brother's repentance and sorrow and confession. He sees no reason for feasting and dancing. Instead, he is angry and refuses to go in and welcome his lost brother home.
C The father comes out of the house and pleads with his eldest son. The son immediately makes a complaint. He complains about how the father treats him in comparison to how he treats his worthless younger brother.
(Lk 15:29-30) Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. (30) But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!
The older son does not use a title when he addresses his father. The younger son, even when he asked for his share of the estate, still approached his father with respect. "Father," he said. And, still later, when he returned home, again he approaches his father with a title of respect. But not the older son. He is deliberately being rude and disrespectful.
The older brother mentions how he has "slaved" for his father and never "disobeyed" his orders. This shows what he really thinks of the situation at home. He isn't a dutiful, respectful, loving son. Rather, he is a sullen, disrespectful, angry slave. Things have been done out of a sense of duty rather than out of love. What a slap in the face for the father: instead of a loving son, all that he had was another slave.
The older son also accuses his father of playing favorites. He says, "You never gave me even a young goat ... yet ... you kill the fattened calf for him!" (Lk 15:29,30). Can't you hear him? "It isn't fair," he is saying. "You love him more than me." How it hurts when parents have this charge hurled at them.
What a short memory the older son his. When his younger brother asked for his share of the estate, what did the father do? Scripture that us that the father "divided his property between them." Both sons, not just the youngest, were given their inheritance. The oldest, out of love and respect for his father, should have protested this action and should have refused his share, but he didn't. He too was more interested in the estate and the money than in his father.
The older son wants a goat to "celebrate with ... friends." In the Middle East, celebrations are always family affairs, and invited guests are always friends of the entire family. But the older son does not want to celebrate with family or with family friends.
Finally, in his complaint did you hear how the older son talks about the younger son? He doesn't call him "my brother"; instead, he calls him "your son." This shows where he stands in relationship to his brother. He doesn't forgive him – even though the father has. He doesn't warmly welcome him back into the family – even though the father has. He has disowned him and written him off.
A careful reading of the parable, then, shows us that the older son was also lost in sin. He may not be away from home, but he is also a lost son of his father. The father of our parable, then, has two lost sons.
D Remember why Jesus said this parable? To answer the complaints of the Pharisees and teachers of the law that He welcomes sinners and tax collectors and eats with them. How are we to interpret Jesus' answer?
In this parable, Jesus intentionally makes a contrast between the two brothers. The father comes out to meet the youngest son and this son confesses his sin. The result? The father took in a lost son. The father also comes out to meet the oldest son. He pleads with him. The result? There is no confession of wrong, things are not set right, and the oldest son heaps sin upon sin with his insulting, complaining, rebellious talk.
The father of our parable represents our Father in heaven. And this heavenly Father, says Jesus, has lost sons away from home and lost sons at home.
The prodigal son, the lost son away from home, represents the sinners and tax collectors. These sinners and tax collectors, like the prodigal, repent of their sin and evil and are joyfully received and accepted by Christ. On the other hand, the older son, the lost son at home, represents the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Like the older brother, they don't joyfully receive penitent sinners; like him, they do not realize they are also lost; like him, they make a big deal out of obedience – out of obeying the letter of the law – but they do so as slaves, not as sons.
E What does this parable say to us this morning? Jesus is telling us there are lost sinners both inside and outside of the church.
No one would deny that there are lost sinners outside of the church. In fact, there is a whole world of lost sinners outside the church. And, like the father and Jesus and the angels of heaven, we should rejoice greatly over everyone of them who repents and comes to God.
Jesus is also telling us that there are lost sinners inside the church. Like the older brother, they are lost even while at home. We may not want to think about this, we may not want to admit this, but there are people on our membership roles who are as lost in sin as the older brother. Their relationship with the Father is broken. Perhaps some of them are sitting in front of me this morning. Let's be honest here. So many times we think that someone who faithfully comes to church is forever safe. But, like the older brother – and the Pharisees – their attendance and involvement is done more out of a sense of duty or legalism than out of love.
It isn't enough for the older brother to be at home. He was still lost, a sinner needing to repent. And it is not enough to be a member of the church or to be in worship this morning. For, you can still be lost, a sinner needing to repent.
There are sinners both inside and outside of the church. Both kinds of sinners need to confess their sins before they take the Lord's Supper. Both kinds of sinners need to repent of their evil before they take the Lord's Supper. Both kinds of sinners need to get down on their knees and ask God for forgiveness before they take the Lord's Supper. Both kinds of sinners need a personal loving relationship with Jesus Christ before they take the Lord's Supper.
F I have a friend on the mission field. He and I were talking about our respective challenges. I wondered how he could live surrounded by so much poverty and without any of the modern conveniences. He wondered how I could put up with the discouragements of the regular parish ministry. After all, he said, when you preach on the mission field, many lives are totally changed overnight; but when you preach to an established church, even small changes come with great difficulty. My friend's point: it is easier for sinners outside of the church to repent and make life-changing decisions, than for sinners within the church to repent and make life-changing decisions.
Why is this so? Why is it so difficult for sinners within the church to repent? Because they, like the older brother of our parable, see no need for repentance and fool themselves into thinking everything is okay.
I plead with you, congregation, to examine your relationship with the Lord. Make sure that yours is a living relationship with Jesus. For, don't forget, there are lost sinners both inside and outside of the church.
II The Loving Father
A When the eldest son refused to enter the house, we would expect the father to react with anger. But the father, for the second time that day, lovingly goes out to receive a son. The father humbles himself in this fashion even though both sons have insulted his name and person.
Even after this act of humiliation on the part of the father, the eldest son continues to insult and sin against his father. How does the father respond to this? One would expect that he would be furious. Instead, there is a beautiful outpouring of love. You see, the father wants above all to have sons, real sons. So, he receives his first son with joy, orders a feast, and refuses the idea that his son should work for him as a servant. And now, once more the father wants a son to be a real son. He doesn't order the older son into the house; he doesn't strike him. Rather, he tries to win him back with words of love. There is no judgment, no criticism, no rejection; there is only an outpouring of love.
In this way the father of the parable is like our heavenly Father. Our heavenly Father loves us so much that He also, because of Christ, forgives us our sins. For our heavenly Father wants more than anything else to have children, to have true and loving sons and daughters.
A Chinese artist was commissioned to portray the parable of the prodigal son. So he chose that part of the story where the prodigal trudges home in shame. He depicted the father standing by the gate waiting for his son, who could be seen approaching in the distance.
When the artist showed the painting to a Christian friend, the man exclaimed, "Oh no, you don't have it right at all! The father shouldn't be standing still; he should be eagerly running to meet his son!" "But no Chinese father would ever consider doing that to one who has been so wayward," answered the artist. "Ah," said the Christian, "but this parable depicts the heart of God. He is far more loving than even the best of human parents."
B Did you notice, there is no conclusion to the second part of the parable. Jesus is deliberately breaking the pattern He has established. Up to this point in Luke 15, the shepherd finds his lost sheep, the woman finds her lost coin and, the father finds his lost younger son; but about the older son no conclusion is given. We are not told what finally happens. We do not know if the father wins back a loyal son. We do not know if they walked into the feast as father and son.
This was done so that the Pharisees and teachers of the law would be left thinking. They were supposed to see themselves as the older son and Christ wanted them to ask themselves, "What would I do here? Would I respond to the father's outpouring of love and humility? Would I go in to the feast as a true and repentant son?"
The missing conclusion is supposed to leave us thinking too. We are supposed to ask ourselves, "How do we respond to the Father's seeking love?" Will I come to the Lord's Supper as a repentant son or daughter?
Our God, congregation, is a loving Father. Our Father in heaven wants the joy of all men repenting of their sins and becoming His children. He wants this of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, He wants this of sinners and tax collectors, and He wants this of you and me. He wants all sinners, whether inside or outside the church, to respond to His seeking love. The only question that needs to be answered, then, is this: "How do you respond to the Father's seeking love?"
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