He was lost and is found
We left off from Jesus’ parable with the older son refusing to join the joy.
How will the father respond? A slap for this petulant upstart? Frog-march him into the party? That’s not his style. Instead, in verse 31, he boils down the whole issue to a single word:
Son! You might even translate it, “Child”. If the older brother could grasp this little word it would change his life forever. “Son!”
Dear boy stop slaving, you are my son. Sons don’t slave. And slaves aren’t sons. Dear child don’t tell me you’re slaving. You are my son.
“Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32)
Notice the father’s heart here. He has to celebrate. The sinner comes home and he can’t help celebrating. Now think of the older brother’s heart. The sinner comes home and he can’t help seething.
The difference between the father and the elder son is striking. Most people only notice the difference between the younger son and the elder. Obviously the older son is different to his brother. But he’s nothing like his dad either! He is far from the father’s heart. He is lost. And it’s his goodness, his obedience, his hard work, his moral record that keeps him out!
It is so important to realise why he is estranged from the feast in outer darkness. He is shut out through his own willfulness. He is not out of the feast because of his badness. He’s out of the feast because of his “goodness”. He insists on being too good for this feast. Yet in doing so he proclaims himself too good for his father. He will not draw up a chair alongside sinners. Therefore he despises the One who welcomes sinners.
Well the father makes his final plea and, before we hear the response, Jesus ends the story. Cliffhanger! What happens next? Does the elder son come in??
Well the parable ends here. But the story in Luke continues. Remember what the parable is portraying: the younger son represents the “sinners and publicans”, the older son represents “the pharisees and scribes” and the father represents Jesus who “receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:1-2).
This parable is illustrating the response of the religious to the grace of Christ. And the reaction is not pretty.
In a sense we know exactly what this older brother does in the end. We know it because we know what the slaves – the Pharisees and scribes – did. It isn’t a happy ending.
Allow me to write the parable’s ending according to how the events of Luke unfold:
The father entreats his older son with open arms. The older son, in blind fury, picks up his shovel and bashes his old man to death.
That’s what happens in the Gospel. The Pharisees and scribes hated the grace of Jesus so much they conspired to kill Him. That is where older brother living takes you. It forces you to hate gracious Jesus.
Christ was not killed by a mob, he was killed by moralists. Like this older brother.
And yet it’s the death of Jesus that would welcome them home, if only they would receive Him. Think of the cross. Think of how this Man willingly accepted such a death. Because on the cross the Man “who receiveth sinners” opened His arms. On that cross He didn’t just give over His best robe, He was stripped naked. He didn’t just associate with sinners, He became sin for us. He didn’t just sacrifice the fatted calf, He sacrificed Himself. He didn’t just come out of his house to plead with sinners, He was shut out of heaven as the darkness fell.
And He did it all for me – wretch that I am. He was stripped, so that I can be robed. He was made sin, so that I am made righteous. He was torn apart like bread, so that I can have the feast.
That’s the heart of Jesus for sinners and for slaves. But Jesus leaves the story open because He’s inviting us to make our response.
Where do you fit into the story? A sinner lost in the far country, going for freedom? A slave lost in the field, going for respect? Or are you a son (or a daughter), one who was lost but now is found?
Sinners run hard from a Heavenly Slave-Driver.
Slaves run hard for a Heavenly Slave-Driver.
Sons run happily towards a Heavenly Father.
Sinners are strangers to God in the far country.
Slaves are strangers to God in the field.
Sons are sinners in the Father’s arms.
Sinners seek freedom yet find deeper slavery.
Slaves seek righteousness yet find deeper sin.
Sons seek Christ and find both freedom and righteousness.
Sinners are wretched in their rebellion.
Slaves are wretched in their righteousness.
Sons are wretches, wrapped in His robes.
Sinners are the lost trying to find escape.
Slaves are the lost trying to find esteem.
Sons are the lost, found by Jesus.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.