Luke 15:28 (NIV) – The older brother became angry and refused to go in.
Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Son. It is one of the most familiar and well-loved parables. Jesus’ revelation of the Heavenly Father’s love and grace toward repentant sinners have warmed the hearts of many people.
The spotlight of the parable is often placed on the younger son. This is understandable as he was rebellious and wasteful, yet his father welcomed him home with opened arms when he repented. Only a father can love that way. That is a great story to tell. It is easy to spot sinners like the younger son and call them out as sinners. However, many people are unaware that the second half of the story focuses on the older son. He is just as lost as his younger brother though it is not as obvious. He is lost in his father’s house!
The older son did not rebel against his father like his younger brother. He was seemingly obedient and responsible. You would think that he was well, but he was not. The occasion of his younger brother’s return revealed the hidden spiritual condition of his heart.
The older brother thought that it was unfair for his father to welcome his younger brother home. To make the matter worse, his father called for a lavish celebration. After all the nonsense and wastefulness, he was not about to accept his brother, and certainly not allow him to have a second bite of the inheritance.
I would not be surprised if most of us think like the older brother, and we empathise with his sentiment. While the father’s action appears noble, it does not seem to be fair. But that is exactly how our Heavenly Father is like. He is lavish with His mercy and grace to a fault provided there is repentance on our part.
The parable does not have a good ending. It closes with the older brother wallowing in self-pity, bitterness and unforgiveness. Despite his father’s repeated pleadings, he remained defiant.
This surprising twist in the story makes many of us feel somewhat uncomfortable because it is really a parable of our lives. Most of us do not identify with the younger brother. We are not that bad and rebellious. But I suspect that if we are honest with ourselves, we can identify with the older brother. Outwardly, we look prim and proper but in the dark recesses of our heart lurks bitterness, hatred, unforgiveness, jealousy, greed, lust and other vices.
All these are not surprising. The human propensity to succumb to such sinful emotions is common knowledge. But, as Christians, we must learn to humble ourselves and come clean with the Father by acknowledging our sins. The tragedy is not because the older brother had sinned, but his refusal to repent and change his ways. Perhaps the younger brother is the bigger villain in view of the nature of his sins. But in acknowledging his wrongs and repenting, he got right with his father. As for the older brother, he was lost in his father’s house and he continued to be lost, unaware of his lostness. What a tragedy!
Are you surprised that a Christian can be lost in the Father’s house? Do not be surprised.
Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Coin before the Parable of the Lost Son. Where did the woman lose her coin? In the house! The coin was lost in the house!
Judas spent about 3 years with our Lord Jesus Christ. What a privilege! But it was all in vain. Like the older brother, he was lost in the Father’s house. It is hard to explain how this is even possible. But this is a spiritual reality. He was a branch that did not abide in the True Vine. Therefore, we must be careful how we respond when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins. Never ignore His prompting and conviction. Never harden your heart to the pleading of the Father.
As Judas left to make an arrangement with the high priest to betray Jesus, Jesus told the remaining eleven apostles the Parable of the Vine and the Branches (John 15:1-17 – ESV). This parable warns that the Father would cut away those branches that did not produce any fruit. While He is merciful, God will cut off the unproductive believers. Judas was a branch that was cut off. The unrepentant older brother-type would be cut off. Be careful that bitterness and unforgiveness over the long term are the most common causes of an unproductive Christian life.
I close my reflection with these words of the apostle, Paul: Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:21 – NIV). Be mindful of how you live your life and do not take the grace of God for granted. Do not become lost in the Father’s house. It will be unfortunate but not uncommon.
Pastors Les & Adeline Chua