I am the eldest of eight siblings and each one of us have had (as we do now) different relationships with our parents. In his mid forty’s my father had an encounter with the Lord that dramatically changed not only his life but the whole family dynamics as well. When that happened, I was married and had already begun a life of my own. The man that the Lord began to then mold and change (to my Father’s credit) was far removed from the man I knew and grew up with. He eventually became a missionary and a pastor. The father my youngest brothers had been raised by was not the same father that had raised me.
As I reflect about this, it reminds me about the story in Luke about the Prodigal son. Each brother was raised by the same man in the same house, but each brother had a very different view and relationship with their father. The story focuses on two sons and their father–one son who squandered away his inheritance and eventually was welcomed back by the father. The other son never left his father’s side, but sadly he never recognized who he was and the value his father had placed on him. This story is rich and deep with great insights and lessons that we can receive if we study it further. It is a story much more than just a wayward son returning home, or a jealous older son. Both sons had sins in their lives. The younger one’s was much more obvious. The older sons sin was a bit more concealed. But sin, whether it is obvious or hidden deals with us in the same way, every time. It is a spiritual law whose results are always constant and consistent and irrespective of who commits it.
Sin promises freedom, but it only brings slavery (John 8:34) Sin promises success, but ultimately brings failure. It promises life but its wages are death. (Rom 6:23)
THE YOUNGER SON
The younger son was selfish, reckless and self-indulgent. He embarrassed his father when he asked for his inheritance before his father’s death as that was considered very disgraceful and disrespectful. He left his father’s surroundings and squandered his inheritance on worldly things that had no spiritual value. He failed to recognize that everything he needed was at home with his family and Father. He traded his inheritance for shallow worldly things that could have only brought death and destruction. This son thought he would find himself but he only lost himself. He traded not only his inheritance but his traditions and values away as he lived in a pagan (Gentile) nation. He is reduced to slavery to foreigners in a nation far away from his home. When God is left out of our lives our enjoyment (sin) eventually becomes our enslavement.
At different times in our lives we may have played each one of these roles. Has there been a period in your life where you “woke up” and realized how far away from home you’ve strayed? Do you remember living among the pigs, eating the same (worldly) garbage that was fed to them? Do you remember that foul stench never leaving your nose, the dirt on your hands as you lived and rubbed up against with what you once thought as unclean and untouchable and forbidden? You may never forget the day you came to your senses and humbly came back home to ask for forgiveness. As you began to ask for mercy, even before the words escaped your lips, you felt your Father’s warm embrace welcoming you into His arms. Your repentance was quickly exchanged with His embrace full of love and restoration and joyful celebration as you were quickly clothed with righteousness and renewal in full standing with your Father. The lost son returned to the person he was created to be.
THE OLDER SON
We can see that the older son is clearly a picture of a Pharisaic mind-set. In his self-righteousness, he has forgotten to rejoice when a sinner (his brother) returns to God. Bitterness and resentment keeps the older son from forgiving his younger brother. It blinds him to the treasure he freely enjoys in spite of his constant relationship with his father. Observe the older son’s reaction to his brother’s return to the family. He displays bitterness, coldness and spite as he addresses his father. This reveals a level of rudeness that is every bit as insulting as the earlier actions of his younger brother. He focuses, not on what he has been given, but on what he feels he has been deprived of.
The elder son’s sins are not so obvious as the younger son’s. He is so blind to them himself that he is literally living in darkness. He thinks he does not need to repent, because he is already anticipating his heavenly reward. The implications of his sinful attitude are just as damaging than the obvious sins that his younger brother openly displayed. Blinded by his own self-righteousness, the elder son thinks himself superior to sinners – sinners like his younger son.
Do you remember ever playing the role of the older son? Have you ever been incapable or even slow in rejoicing over some else’s repentance? Have you ever unable to forgive? Perhaps you thought they needed a bit more of the “cold shoulder treatment” and punishment before you slowly doled out forgiveness and mercy. Has it ever bothered you that your compassion and mercy had to be forced or worked up, that it seemed slow in arriving or it seemed a bit artificial and shallow? Have you been unable to be thankful and rejoice for the wonderful blessings given and the inheritance you have as your Father’s son ? Do you even recognize who you are and all that you have as the Son of your Father?
The father has evidently never given up hope on his son, and has continued to scan the horizon for signs that he might return, and that they might once again be a family. The father’s reaction to his son’s return is an overflowing of love, compassion and tenderness. He “falls on his son’s neck,” hugging and kissing him, and demands that the symbols of his freedom and of his status within the family — the best robe, sandals, the ring — be restored to him, as if nothing had happened!
This story declares that no matter where we are in life we have we will always have a rich rewarding inheritance as a child of our Father. It doesn’t matter what sins we committed, we all have our Heavenly Fathers welcome and embrace as we repent and return to our home. We can begin to become the man (or woman) that our Father fashioned us to be. Romans 8 says we who are in Christ have received the “Spirit of Adoption” and later in that chapter it states that as children we are “joint heirs with Christ”. Imagine that all the things that Christ received as the Son of the Living God has been given to us through our adoption. All that belongs to Christ belongs to us! It will take a millennia to discover everything that belongs to us in our inheritance. Let us begin to discover who we are in Christ and enjoy our rich inheritance and begin to walk in it today, every day. Let us endeavor to become who we have been destined to be.