The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 has always fascinated me and touched a chord of familiarity with me that was always convicting. IF there had been a third brother, what would his response have been? Let’s rehearse the story.
The younger brother decides that life on the farm is pretty boring and wants to go out and live recklessly. He is seeking some adventure. The older brother stays at home dutifully fulfilling his responsibilities. At the bottom of the social rung eating with and feeding the pigs, the prodigal son finally comes to himself and realizes his grave sin. He realizes that it would be better to be in the presence of his father as a servant than to not be in his presence at all. When he returns home, we see a beautiful picture of the father filled with compassion watching and waiting for the return of the prodigal. The father does not wait on the porch with a look of scorn on his face, rather he runs to his son with compassion and love. The truly repentant son confesses his sin to his father and shows in his manner, attitude, and words his humble and heartfelt apology. This was not a placating “I’m sorry.” This was a gut wrenching, open and honest apology to his father. Immediately, the joyful father begins preparations for a party to welcome home his son.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch the older brother gets wind of this party. “But he was angry and refused to go. His father entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘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.” (Luke 15:28, 29).
Jesus compared the older brother to the Pharisees. They were trying so hard to be perfect (“whitewashed tombs”) on the outside, but on the inside they were “filled with dead man’s bones.” (Matthew 23:27, 28). They along with the older brother were going through the motions of Christianity and missing the entire point. External righteousness does not equate to internal righteousness or a living walking relationship with God. External righteousness misses the entire point of the life God created us to have. I have missed this point for so long.
For so long I have read this story of the prodigal son and identified with the older brother in the story, “Yeah, he’s right. That prodigal son should not have received a party. He was wayward and sinful and rejected his father and did what was wrong. Why should he get a reward for unrighteous living while the older brother got nothing?”
Finally, through hours of prayer and the Lord pouring His love into my heart and patiently teaching me, I finally got the point. Not just the point of the prodigal son and the older brother, but the point of our life with Christ. “Son, you are always with me…” (Luke 15:21). The older brother did not leave the presence of his father, but the prodigal did. However, as we compare the response of both the prodigal and the older brother, the prodigal realized the extreme blessing in being with his father and the older brother did not. God created us to have a relationship with Him. He sent His Son to die for our sins so our relationship with Him could be repaired and we could spend an eternity with Him having relationship. Obedience is important and will automatically flow out of a right relationship, but the bottom line is a real relationship with God.
The older brother in his external righteousness missed what the prodigal figured out while he was with the pigs: it is not about right external living it is about relationship.
Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking on the form of a servant…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death…” (Philippians 2:7, 8). Jesus died because He wanted to have a relationship with me, with you, with each of us.
The prodigal wanted to be in the presence of his father. The older brother wanted praise because of his righteous living. The proper attitude does not happen until we “Deny ourselves, take up His cross and follow Jesus.” (Matthew 16:14).
IF there had been a third brother with the proper attitude, he would have been waiting with his father on the porch binoculars in hand peering down the path with a prayer on his lips. When they spotted the prodigal, the third brother would have said, “Dad, go greet him. I’ll get the party preparations started. Our lost brother is now home.” There would have been joy in the return and the party preparations not self-righteous jealousy.
“Son, you are always with me…” (Luke 15:21).