The Heart of the Father, Part 7
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Luke 15:31-32 And he said unto him, Son, you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry, and be glad: for this your brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
Over the last few blogs we have been addressing the younger brother. The one who feels that he is missing out on life by staying in the Father's house. So he decides to leave and comes to the end of himself. But when he decides to return, he is immediately embraced and fully restored by the Father.
Most people mainly look at the younger brother in this story. We even call the parable that of the Prodigal Son. I think we make a mistake doing this. Because really what these parables are really about is the Father's heart, not so much about what kind of weird stuff the people do. So really, we should focus on the Father, His love, His compassion, His forgiveness, His restoration,... And not so much on the sin of the younger son.
But the person that is hardly ever talked about is the older brother. And to me, this one is just a fascinating character. Because I can relate to him so well. Because I've had seasons in my life when I was like that. And I've had seasons in my life when other people treated me like this older brother treats his younger brother.
Before we dive into the text, just a reminder: When Jesus spoke this parable, there were two groups in attendance. One was the tax collectors and sinners. The second group was the religious leaders at the time. And I am absolutely convicted that Jesus was using the two brothers in this parable to talk directly to and about these two groups of people. The younger brother is a representation of the tax collectors and sinners, those who felt excluded by the religious system of the time. And then the older brother who was a representation of the legalistic and judgmental religious leaders at the time.
So let's dive into the text:
The younger brother comes directly from work. As we will see in later verses, the value system of this older brother was completely built on his ability to work! His whole identity was built upon "I am right with the Father, because I work well! Anybody who doesn't work as well as I do is not as worthy as I am! Since I am working the most and the best here in this place, I should receive the highest place and the highest honor in the house!" That's basically what this older brother is thinking.
So one day he came near the house he heard music and dancing. My guess would be that at that moment the older brother was already angry. "How could there be a party while I am at work? Why did nobody invite me? " I'm pretty sure he was already upset. This was probably not the first party of this kind that he had to endure. So he called a servant, asking: "Hey what's going on here? Why is there a party?"
Now the servant's response is very direct:
Luke 15:27 And he said unto him, your brother has come; and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.
But I have a feeling breaking this news was probably a rather difficult task. The older brother probably already had a reputation for not liking parties. So this servant is probably part of the party, maybe in the middle of a dance, when someone comes to him and says: "The older brother is having a question for you. He's waiting outside." Talk about a way of ruining the party. The servant probably already knows what's coming. He has to break the news.
- The younger brother has returned.
- The older brother desised the younger brother, as we can see in verse 30 (Luke 15:30 But as soon as this your son came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you have killed for him the fatted calf.)
- The Father never threw a party for the older brother, as we can see in verse 29
- The Father killed the fatted calf, which was reserved for a special occassion. Now guess who raised and cared for that calf for years? It was the older brother who cared for that animal. Saving it for the day when he would have a party. But that day would never come
Can you imagine the awkward situation this servant is in? He has to break the news to the older brother that the younger brother has received EVERYTHING the older brother has been waiting for his whole life. The party, the fatted calf, the blessing of the Father,... The younger son received it all. And the older son thought he was more worthy than the younger brother. He thought HE was the one who should have received all these things, since he was better than the younger brother. I had some difficult conversations before, and some of them were VERY awkward. But I don't think I've been placed in such an difficult situation very often.
So the older brother gets the news. And of course, all his fears are confirmed. Someone less worthy than him received what he thought he deserved. So he refused to go in, he refused to join the party. He would much rather sit outside, and start a protest, a demonstration of one.
But the amazing thing is that the Father did not just leave him there. The Father is still reaching out to this older brother, pleading with him, reasoning with him, trying to convince him to join.
But the older son now shares all his complaints.
Luke 15:29-30 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years have I served you, neither transgressed I at any time your commandment: and yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this your son came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you have killed for him the fatted calf.
Man, what a statement. Let's break it down.
- The older son says that he "served" the father all these years. But he missed his identity. The Father has many servants. But he has a different identity from all the other servants. He is the son!
- The older brother says that he never transgressed the Father's commandment. Wow! In other words he considers himself righteous by his deeds. He compars himself with others and says: "I'm better than them, so I must be accepted by the Father!" In other words he said: "I am more deserving than others"
- He accuses the Father of withholding from him. He says the Father never gave him anything, so he could have a party.
- And then he accuses both the Father and His son. He is basically saying: This son of yours (Notice: He doesn't address him as his own brother) is less deserving than I am. Because he wasted everything you had with harlots, while I was working hard for you! (Notice that nobody in the whole story ever mentioned harlots before? Why did he think that the younger brother would sleep with harlots? Interesting thought,...) You did a wrong thing, what you gave him should belong to me!
These are the kind of accussations that the older brother is throwing both at the younger brother and the Father. But here's the deal: He completely misunderstood what the Father is all about. Because in the Father's response, and throughout the whole parable, we will see that the older son is completely mistaken about everything he says.
- First of all, remember what happened at the beginning of the story? Verse 12? The Father divided his estate among the two brothers! Down here in 31, we read that the Father shares everything with the son. (Luke 15:31 And he said unto him, Son, you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours.) The older brother accuses his Father of withholding from him (verse 29). But reality is: The older brother could have had a party anytime he wanted to. He didn't have a party because he a) probably didn't know how to have fun and b) he probably didn't have any friends.
- Secondly, the older son completely missed what the Father was all about. He thought that what the Father wanted of him was work hard and faithfully, do what the Father says. And this way he could earn the Father's approval and his inheritance. But as we see in the whole picture: He already had everything! He was working to earn an inheritance he already had. Did he already have the Father's approval? Yes, He is the son, not just another servant. Did he already own the estate? Yes, the Father wants to share everything He has with His son (v. 31). The Father was about having a relationship with the son, not about having yet another servant. But the son thought that to be accepted as a son, he has to reach a certain standard. But by trying to reach that standard, he actually lost the very relationship the Father so deeply wanted.
- Along those lines we have to understand that the Father was not withholding anything from the son. The son himself was the reason why he didn't have any joy, any fun, any parties,... The problem was not the Father's behavior. The problem was the son's misinterpretation of what the Father wanted from him.
And so the older son tried to get the approval of his Father by working hard. When he didn't get it, he tried to work harder. He tried to be more obedient. But the harder he tried, the more distant he grew from his Father. Things didn't work out for him. And eventually he pushed himself to the point where he lost all joy, all life, all peace. And he became angry, bitter and frustrated. The only thing he could do was to try harder. Trying to convince himself that "one day I will get my reward". Putting others down, making himself look better than others. And trying to prove to himself and to others that he was worthy of his reward.
But obviously, it didn't work. The younger brother got everything that he had been waiting for. So the anger, the bitterness, the frustration and even the hatret reached a whole new level.
How did he became like this? Well, the text doesn't clearly say. But I have a suspicion. I believe this son also had his far-country experience. Maybe many years earlier, this brother also left, like the younger brother did. And then he also returned. And he made the same commitment that the younger brother made:
Luke 15:18-19 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you, And am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.
And maybe until that point the stories are exactly the same. The brother returns, the Father embraces him. But then this brother says: "Father, I'm not worthy, make me like one of your servants!" The Father says: "Bring the robe, the ring, the shoes, you're my son, you are forgiven, you are restored, everything I have is yours again!" But this son says: "No thanks, I don't deserve this. Being a servant is enough for me!" So the Father pleads with him for a while, but eventually He says: "Alright, have it your way! If you want to be a servant, then you can work! Just know that I'm willing to throw a party for you anytime. I want to treat you as my son! But if you prefer being treated as a servant, then that's what you will get!" And so the son spends the rest of his life trying to work his way back into the Father's heart. Trying to earn back the money he lost in the far country. And while the Father wanted to give it to him at once, the son rejected it. So he tries to earn something back that he already received.
Basically, this older son was as lost as the younger brother. Just that he didn't know it! The Pharisees were as lost as the tax collectors and sinners. Just that they didn't know it. And the Father throws a party at anybody who comes back to Him. But the leaders thought they were "good enough". And by trying to convinc themselves that they are good enough, by keeping all the law, by being "perfect", they actually completely lose the Father's approval. And they are lost in the Father's presence, without even knowing it!
Can you imagine what happens if the younger son returns and bumps into the older brother before he meets the Father? The older brother would probably have told him his own version of who the Father is: "The Father is angry, He only wants those who work hard, those who reach a certain level. You don't qualify! So if you want to avoid getting beaten up by the Father, then you better turn around right now, before He sees you!" And the younger brother might have spent the rest of his life believing that the Father rejected Him for good. When in fact, He was longing for the son to return. All because of the wrong perception of the older brother of "who the Father is and what He is after".
I don't know where you see yourself in this story. But I know you are in there. I've gone through different seasons in my life, and I think I've been through all these stages that these two brothers went through.
- I've been the super-arrogant young man who thought he is smart enough to conquer this world, without the need of God (like the younger brother leaving the house)
- I got beaten up in places that I thought would fulfill me
- I've been desperate enough to do crazy things for others because of the slightest hope that there is a bit of fulfillment at the other end. Just to get disappointed over and over again (like the younger brother's far-country experience)
- I've been loaded with shame when I returned to God
- I have tried to proof to God that I can work myself back into God's favor
- And I've had my own party with God, when I have been showered with God's overwhelming love. The truth of those events set me free from my guilt. It was those days that truly saved me and changed the way I see God and myself.
I don't know where you are in this story. But you are in there. One of these verses, one of these sentences from Luke 15:11-32 describes where you are at with God today! So that leads to some questions:
- Do you want to stay there?
- If not, what is your next step?
- And if you take that step: What is it that the Father will do in response to your step?
God will not force His way on your life. But He will respond to your initiation.
Come home to the Father! Today! Wherever you are! And enjoy the goodness, the pleasures, the joy and the fulfillment of the Father's house!
Come home to the Father!
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