The story begins by saying that a certain man had two sons; we’ll get to that.
The younger son had a desire for instant gratification, but this was probably an attitude that he had for a long time; he probably did not just wake up this way one morning.
Under the law, the younger son did not get as much as the older; in fact, the firstborn received double the inheritance as any other children (Deuteronomy 21:17).
The father did not argue; he knew his son had free will.
The younger son here is like so many in the world who think that life is so full; but the reality is that it is very empty. I’m only 27. Most of my friends and the people I went to Bible School with have left the truth already. Some of them just lost interest, some of them got too involved in school, some of them got a great job that made them a lot of money but took up all their time, some of them found a girlfriend or boyfriend who was not a believer, and they thought that either they could win them over, or they very unfortunately and very wrongly thought that the field of single people in the truth was too dry or even empty, or that “true love” with someone they felt was perfect for them could trump being a part of God’s family and his plan, some of them unfortunately ran into some tough times and felt like God couldn’t help them. There are many other reasons as well, none of which are really valid. If it’s true for me that most people I’ve known have already gone off, how much more is it for those of you who are twenty, thirty, forty, even fifty-plus years older than me? But they have a choice. There is only so much that God can even do; we could almost say he limits himself because he cannot make someone turn to him or turn back to him; that’s something that everyone has to decide for themselves. But we do know that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32). We have to make the choice to be there. As for those who choose not to, that’s their choice.
Everything the world has to offer can be done in a matter of minutes; think of theft or fornication (unfortunately, a big one in my age group).
Notice that verse 14 says that the famine was “in that land,” meaning that the famine may not have been going on in the land where the father was living. The younger son probably would not have had any way of knowing that, but even so, he probably knew that his father and brother were much better off. He would have been gone a while, seeing as he traveled to a far away country, and had time to spend everything and then to go through a famine.
Out there is no hope; not everything is perfect at home, here in our group, but it’s still much better to have hope. We’re told that it will not be easy; some of us in this room here are doing fine right now, and some are not. Individually, we have all probably been through some hard times, some worse than others. Even as a group, most of us who have been here for a long time know that there have been some dark years. But it is always better to be with the father; in his presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
The younger son got himself in a situation where he had to depend on someone else to help him out. You would think that based on verse 13, he would have had a lot of friends out there; it’s amazing how so many friendships are so fragile that when things get bad, they can just end with no questions asked. What happened to the people he spent so much time with when he was living riotously? Many friendships are based on “What-can-I-get-out-of-this?” and then once they are no longer needed, or the friend is in need, they’re gone. He finally realized that the only way out was to turn back to his father. He had gone to a far away country, so he had a very long journey home. What must he have been thinking that whole way?
The father had probably wanted to go looking for his son, but he knew that his son had a choice. Sometimes God lets us make bad decisions before we turn back. We have to turn to him in order to be accepted and to get into the Kingdom; no one will be brought into the Kingdom kicking and screaming.
The father was so glad to see his son on the horizon that he ran out to meet him. He did not let his son finish what he was saying about how he was no longer worthy to be called his son. He was always the son of his father; he did not stop being the man’s son just because he ran off and sinned. John says in his first letter, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God (1 John 3:1).” He goes on to say, “Beloved, we are God’s children now (1 John 3:2).” Brother Nic Pratt gave an exhortation a while back and he encouraged us all to take a Post-It note and write on it “I am a child of God,” and hang it in our bedroom or office or wherever we would see it, as a daily reminder.
God takes great pleasure when we turn from our sins; he says to Ezekiel, “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live (Ezekiel 18:21-22).” He is willing to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west, and that as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear him (Psalm 103:12-13).
Many think that the story ends in verse 24. But verse 11 says that this certain man had two sons.
The older son should have been one of the first to find out about that his brother was home. Earlier in the day, the father had been worrying about his younger son, hoping that he would return. Now, his older son was the problem. The older son had done everything right. But his attitude was wrong. We can be the same way (“I go to meeting every Sunday, I do my readings every day, I go to class on Thursday nights, I pray three times a day…”). He thought he could earn a “party.” The rich young ruler was the same way; he thought he could earn salvation by what he did (Matthew 19:16-22).
Paul says to “rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).” Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says twice that there is more joy over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine just persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7, 10).
Paul also says that “in lowliness of mind let each esteem each other better than themselves (Philippians 2:3).” We’re not supposed to think very highly of ourselves anyway (Romans 12:3), so however highly you may think of yourself, think even more highly of your brother. It is always good to see the best in your brother or sister.
The older son didn’t seem to care that his brother was even home, or even have any regard for him. He may as well have asked his father “Why didn’t you slam the door in his face?” His younger brother had not even done anything wrong to him; what was he so upset about? Many times, if we have the mindset of the older brother, it doesn’t even have anything to do with something done to us. Nowadays, it may not even have to do with something they have done; it could even be something like, “But, but, but, Sister Sofia doesn’t have the Atonement quite right,” or “Brother Bobby doesn’t understand Resurrection Responsibility!” It doesn’t matter; if they’re a brother or sister, God loves them. We cannot put qualifiers on God’s love for his children. There are brothers and sisters who have gone off and done really bad, committing some pretty grievous sins. But God still loves them; it doesn’t mean that what they did was ok, or that anything goes, but that we have to be willing if they turn from their ways, to welcome them back with open arms.
The parable ends in verse 32; the father says to his older son, that his brother was dead and is alive again, was lost, and now is found; an occasion for celebration. There is no further response from the older son, and there does not need to be; that’s the end of the story. Remember how the book of Jonah ends; instead of being glad that God had mercy on Nineveh, Jonah was angry. He wanted them blown off the face of the earth (Jonah 3:10-4:1). God asks him, as well as us when a sinner turns from his ways, “doest thou well to be angry (Jonah 4:4)?”
Both sons in this parable were lost, not just the younger. In fact, in a way, the older son was even more lost than the younger. He may even be the focus of the story, seeing as the first part of this chapter is about rejoicing over a found sheep and a found coin. He was miserable, as most, if not all people who hold grudges are, even though he had been doing everything right. The Pharisees had been upset that Jesus was eating with publicans and sinners (Luke 15:1-2).
This parable may come across as being negative; we see the two sons, one of which went and lived in sin, and the other who had a bad attitude when his younger brother was welcomed home instead of having the door slammed in his face. But this is actually a very positive parable about God’s love. Both sons in this story had problems, but the father loved them both. He loved his older son who had obeyed him all those years, but he never stopped loving his younger son, because he wanted so much for him to come home, to turn back to him. God is the same way with us; God loves each of us in this room; he loves us enough that he woke us up this morning (he didn’t have to). And we’re here right now trying to obey him. But he also loves all those who have left him; he wants them to turn back, and it gives him great joy when they do. This is a story about a man who made some mistakes, but who came to his senses. God will always accept those who turn from their wicked ways. It’s also a story about someone who was doing everything right, but who just needed to be corrected in the way he thought. Both sons needed to be shown that they were already loved: The younger son felt like he was not worthy to be called his father’s son, and the older son felt underappreciated. One son thought too little of himself in his father’s sight, and the other thought a little too highly of himself. The bottom line, and what we need to remember, is that God loved them both. I’m not in any way saying that “anything goes,” or that we just have to accept anyone and everyone no matter what they believe or how they live. The younger son needed to turn from the error of his ways. The older son just had the mindset that if you mess up big enough, you’re out. Think of one of the worst sins ever committed, when Judas betrayed Jesus. You can’t really outdo that, but even he had opportunity to be forgiven; unfortunately, he blew it. Remember that even though the younger son was gone a long time, the father’s love never diminished. Jeremiah says the “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).”
We don’t know how much longer we have, but it does not matter: God has given us yet another day to love each other, as the father in this story loved both his sons: the one that had screwed up, and the one that had not. We’re commanded to love each other as Jesus, and thus God, has loved us (John 15:12). It’s a commandment, not a suggestion. Paul says to the Romans, that “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” We were already sinners when Christ died for us; we did not have to be perfect for him to do that. He made that sacrifice for us regardless of what we had done, or what we will go on to do.