This coming week marks 28 years since I started for the kingdom. I started my journey in fresh childlike trust and I believed that the Lord’s way was best. I would read in His word how He mothered the bird and grieve when it fell from its nest. Many times I felt His delight when I chose to do right and I prayed I would not make Him sad. I would meet my lord the cool of the day and fellowship of the brethren. What a pure sweet communion we had.
However, as I have journeyed, the road I have traveled has sometimes been steep, through wild jagged places of life. Sometimes I’ve stumbled and fallen so hard that the stones cut my soul like a knife. But the staff of my Shepherd would reach out for me. And lift me to cool pastures green With oil of the spirit anointing my wounds. There I’d rest by the clear healing stream.
Sometimes my God has led me through troubled waters, not to drown me, but to cleanse me. Oh but now more than ever, I cherish the cross. More than ever I sit at His feet. All the miles of my journey have proved my Lord true and He is so precious to me.
As I reflect on my years of my journey to the kingdom, I am reminded that others may be going through what I have experienced this far and I ask. Is love’s old sweet story too good to be true? Do you find all this hard to believe? Has the cruel world we live in so battered your heart that the hurt child inside you can’t grieve? I can’t say I blame you I’ve been where you are
But all I can say is, “It’s true.” You’re wanted, you’re precious, and you’re the love of his heart. And the old rugged cross was for you. (Adapted from Bill Gaither).
During this journey, I have learnt a few more lessons which I now share. This lesson is about the story of the prodigal son in Luke chapter 15. Not so much about the younger son who we usually concentrate on, but the older brother. I want to share my experiences about the Big brothers and sisters in our lives. Have I not met many along the way? An early reading of the Prodigal’s story this morning prompted me to quietly whisper to myself, “I am so glad the Prodigal encountered his father first when he returned home, rather than his brother.”
I know, as do you, that had he encountered his older brother first, the Prodigal would have never made it home. His brother would have rejected him and turned him back to the ‘far country.’
I know this intuitively and also empirically. I have been the Prodigal myself and oh how my big brothers have refused to join in my welcome party that the Lord has set for me. Some big brothers have rejected my testimony arguing with my dad and directly with me that I am not welcome and quote all verses to prove am a sinner and going to hell. This conduct is no less egregious. I also made the long, arduous journey home to God. And since then, I have met many others with similar stories.
Though we all rejoice at the remarkable grace that God and many of His children extended to us, eventually, we each confess encounters with the spirit of the elder brother. And we each confess that the journey back to God was made so much harder because of the hurtful behavior of Christian brothers (and sisters).
I can understand because I sometimes also think humanly speaking that the older brother was rational. In an ‘eye-for-eye’ world, in a ‘if-you-hurt-me-I-will-hurt-you’ world, the angry rejection by the older brother made sense. After all, the Prodigal did so much wrong. This is Rational.
It was also rational for the older brother to believe that he had earned his own place in the family by good behavior and that the Prodigal should no longer be in the family because of his poor behavior. The concept of earning your way IN has merit and makes sense.
It must have seemed irrational to the older brother for the Father to call the Prodigal, “son” and throw a feast for him. It must have seemed irrational to discover that good behavior, after all, is NOT what “earns” a place in the family.
It must have been confusing for the older brother to learn that belonging to the family is a gift of grace, is the prerogative of the Father and that His love doesn’t diminish when hurt and doesn’t increase when pleased. He loves at all times.
The older brother obviously didn’t have a clue what his Father’s heart was like; how gracious, forgiving and loving.
I would suggest that though the Prodigal traveled far from the Father’s house, the older brother traveled far from the Father’s heart.
It’s insightful to see the lavish love poured over the returning Prodigal. But don’t miss the Father’s love for the older brother. Realizing that His oldest son was not at the ‘Welcome Home’ celebration, the Father went to retrieve his first-born. He wanted him included in the feast and festivities, too.
God has been lavish in His love toward me – a former Prodigal. And there are some who refuse to join me in the joy of my home-coming. Some in the Christian family, avoid me in public, shun me from their activities, and don’t celebrate my return. With such “siblings,” I must keep my heart pure. I must show the mercy I wish I had been shown. I must sincerely want them to experience God’s festivities, too, in the way I had hoped they’d want to include me.
We are quick to conclude that Jesus’ story in Luke 15 is about the behavior of the Prodigal. That misses the point. It’s really a story about the behavior and heart of the older brother.
Seeing Ourselves in the Parable
There’s a good reason this short story pulls at the heartstrings of so many hearers. We recognize ourselves in it. The parable reminds us of the most painful aspects of the human condition, and those who take an honest look will recognize themselves.
For believers, the Prodigal Son is a humbling reminder of who we are and how much we owe to divine grace. For those who are conscious of their own guilt but are still unrepentant, the Prodigal’s life is a searing reminder of the wages of sin, the duty of the sinner to repent, and the goodness of God that accompanies authentic repentance.
For sinners coming to repentance, the father’s eager welcome and costly generosity are reminders that God’s grace and goodness are inexhaustible.
For heedless unbelievers (especially those like the scribes and Pharisees, who use external righteousness as a mask for unrighteous hearts), the elder brother is a reminder that neither a show of religion nor the pretense of respectability is a valid substitute for redemption.
For all of us, the elder brother’s attitude is a powerful warning, showing how easily and how subtly unbelief can masquerade as faithfulness.
Regardless of which of those categories you fall into, my prayer for you as you listen to God and search your heart. If you are a believer, may you bask in the Father’s joy over the salvation of the lost. May you gain a new appreciation for the beauty and the glory of God’s plan of redemption. And may you also be encouraged and better equipped to participate in the work of spreading the gospel.
Out of my bondage sorrow and night, Jesus I come to Thee.