Jesus’ most famous parable, the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, is really a story about two sons, the younger and the older (v.11).
The younger son had enough of life at home. He did the same dreary chores every day and saw the same old things every day. Worse, the rules and authority of his father were slowly suffocating him. He’d heard rumors of the far country, a place of excitement and freedom. So one day he screwed up his courage and demanded that his father give him his share of his future inheritance. And (perhaps to his amazement?) his father complied.
Some days later, the younger son set out for the far country, eager to taste the good life. And when he arrived, he was not at all disappointed. He lived like a rock star in Las Vegas – a series of lavish parties and loose women. His motto was, “let the good times roll.”
But the good times stopped rolling when the money ran out. Desperate, he found work feeding pigs, a job not only dirty and humiliating but for a Jew, spiritually defiling. He was half-starved, penniless, friendless, and without hope. So much for the promise of freedom in the far country! But that’s the deception of sin – sin holds out to us the promise of liberty, but in the end it enslaves (John 8:34).
But this son finally came to his senses. He remembered life back home, where even the servants had plenty to eat. So he resolved to return to his father, confess his sin, and beg to be received not as a son, for he knew he was no longer worthy of that honor, but as a hired servant.
The son shuffled home, his clothes filthy with the muck of a swine pen and his head hanging low in shame. But his father saw him, and bursting from out the door of his home, he sprinted to his son, enfolded him in his arms and kissed him. The son, surely confused by his father’s affectionate and joyful welcome, began to sputter the words of the speech he had prepared for the occasion, to beg to be made a hired servant.
But the father would have none of it. He called for the best robe, a ring, shoes, and the fattened calf. The young man left as a son, and he will come home as a son. Oh, the compassion of the father! Forgetting his son’s folly and disgrace, he rejoiced that he was back home again! “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (v.24). And the homecoming celebration began!
But not everybody celebrated. When the older son heard what the commotion was about, he was furious and refused to take part in the rejoicing. Why, he had slaved for his old man all these years and never left home, but he never got even so much as a kid goat to share with his friends. But his little brother comes home after squandering his dad’s wealth on prostitutes and he’s treated like royalty! Despite his father’s entreaty, the elder son refused to celebrate his brother’s homecoming. He was bitter, indignant, and resentful.
Jesus told this parable to show the compassion and mercy of God towards wayward sinners. Whenever a person repents and humbly comes to God by faith in Jesus Christ, God receives him as the father received his son – with love and joy. Perhaps you are in the far country of sin. Know that God is merciful, and if you repent and entrust yourself to Christ, the Father in Heaven will welcome you home as his very own son or daughter.
But Jesus also taught this parable to warn us of the danger of proud self-righteousness. The older son relied on his own goodness and works, and thought his father owed him his blessings because he earned them by his faithfulness. Because he was a stranger to grace and to the love of his father, he had only contempt for his sinful younger brother. And so he would not and could not rejoice that his brother was found, and was alive again.
No matter your background, if you belong to Christ, God has welcomed you home from the far country. Rejoice in God’s compassion towards you and others. Also beware the older brother. Pride and self-righteousness lurk even in the hearts of the redeemed.
And keep your eyes fixed on the true Older Brother, Jesus Christ. He not only rejoiced in your homecoming, but he’s the Brother who actually journeyed to the far country to find you and bring you back to your Father.
Soli Deo Gloria,