I don’t know about you, but there are times in this part of my life where I’ve felt like the prodigal son’s brother. I’ve done everything right, I’ve remained faithful. This phase of my life has been a time where God has reminded me that He is the Father – whether I’m the prodigal or the faithful brother.
When We Are The Prodigal Son’s Brother
The Prodigal Son’s Brother
The story of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15:11-32, is probably pretty familiar to most of us. The younger son decides he wants his share of the inheritance. He heads out into the world and soon squanders it all. A famine hits the country and the son has to take a job feeding the pigs. Finding himself to be so hungry that he is willing to eat the food he is feeding to the pigs, he considers his own father’s servants, and how well they are cared for, and decides to return home to his father. He is warmly greeted, celebrated, and loved! What a wonderful picture of God’s love for us – while still in our sin and worldly-ugliness, He runs to us, forgives us, and the angels rejoice that another sinner has come Home!
But what about the brother of the prodigal son?
He never strayed; he didn’t run out and squander his inheritance.
He didn’t leave his father’s side.
He wasn’t celebrated, but watched the celebration for his brother.
All that we are told about the older son is that he stays – he remains with his father. He questions the celebration for the wayward younger brother, and becomes angry when the details are shared with him.
When his father comes to him, his reply seems so appropriate – so raw – so reflective of his frustration:
‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ Luke 15:29,30
A Death-Bed Conversion
How do you feel about “death-bed conversions”? People who have had their whole life, who have heard of Jesus, who have ignored Him, and then choose Him in the last moments. Their lives may have been ugly, filthy, seemingly worthless – and maybe they have even gone against every social, moral, ethical and scriptural rule in their treatment of people. Yet, for some reason, they decide to accept Christ in their final moments.
I am thrilled for them! Our lives – yours, mine – we’re just one mistake, one poor choice, one unguarded act – away from the same kind of life that these others have had. Wouldn’t we still want the hope – the Hope – of salvation if we were the one facing our final moments?
Now, the prodigal son may not have been in his final moments on earth, but he was pretty close to being without any hope. His money was gone, there was a famine, his access to food must have been severely limited if he was considering a meal of pig slop.
He was almost without hope.
And then he made the right choice – after so many wrong choices. He realized that what he thought was hope turned out to be hopeless. He realized that when he had put hope in his own abilities, it turned out to prove hopeless.
And then he realized the true Hope – his father, his salvation, his source of life. His capital-H hope. And so he did the only thing he could – he went home to Hope. And what happened next?
Hope came running.
So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20
And he was saved. And safe. And full of hope – and Hope.
The older brother – the one also hurt by the younger brother’s decisions – he is filled with anger. Here stands his brother, who has made wrong choice after wrong choice, who has hurt the family, probably ruined reputations, squandered wealth and riches.
…and that younger brother is welcomed home…
And to Hope.
A Faithful Testimony
I have been a Christian pretty much all my life. I grew up in a Christian home, I was taught about Jesus from the time I can remember. I chose Jesus very early on, and really didn’t waiver. That is my testimony – that I found God early, and really never let go of Him. By some standards, it’s a rather boring testimony. I don’t have story of miraculous rescue from addiction or struggle; I didn’t make horrid choices. I stayed with Jesus.
But really – that’s a beautiful testimony, isn’t it? God is faithful – God has remained faithful! And I have been saved, safe, and protected from so much that others have had to struggle with.
What about those in our lives – yours and mine – who have squandered their Father-given gifts? I am so quick to extend grace – and Grace – to those who I don’t know; to those whose issues or worldly-wrongs haven’t directly affected me. Do you find the same to be true?
When Grace and Forgiveness are Difficult Choices
Why can we extend grace to those we don’t know, yet we struggle to extend grace to those we do know? Why did the prodigal’s brother have such a hard time forgiving his own sibling, but may have forgiven a stranger much more quickly?
Maybe because pain is very real. Maybe because for as much as we would like to view ourselves as Christ-like, the reality is that we’re still human. We aren’t actually Christ. We can only ever be Christ-like.
When we are hurt, angered, betrayed, it’s human nature to put up walls, to defend our name, our honor, our own life. We want revenge, or justice, retribution, vindication. We wonder why, when we stay on the straight and narrow, bad things happen to us. But isn’t that the way of this cold, cruel world?
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
We Can’t Avoid Heartache
Jesus lays it out for us – we will have trouble in this world. At the same time, isn’t that the key, dear friends? We will have trouble in this world.
“For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come.” Hebrews 13:14
This world is not our home. We were not created for this world. We were created to live in this world for just a little while, and then to have eternity with Jesus! And so we will have trouble here – because this isn’t our home. This world is just our journey to our Home.
And so for me, and for you, we will suffer; we will endure heartache and hardship. It’s meant to point us to Jesus – to help us keep our eyes on Hope and Home.
And our Father, who created us, knows our hearts. We can express all of our feelings to Him. We can tell Him, as the older brother did, just how angry we are at the seeming injustice. We can point out how we haven’t strayed, we haven’t been a black mark against the family, we haven’t disgraced our father, or our Father.
God Remains Faithful
And I love the answer that the father gives to the prodigal son’s older, more faithful, brother:
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Those of us who have the testimonies of staying near to God, as the older son stayed near to his father, we have access to God – we always have. We have all we need in Him – we always have. We have all of who He is, working on our behalf – we always have. We have all of the things that God can provide, and all He can do for us – we always have.
Isn’t it just like Jesus to tell such a story of hurt, betrayal, anger, frustration, faithlessness and faithfulness, and then to end with the only thing that’s truly important?
At the end of it all, isn’t salvation the only thing that’s truly important?
Isn’t that the only thing that’s truly of worth in this life?
We’re Just One Choice Away from Being the Prodigal Son
When you are hurting, and when I am hurting, whether it’s pain from a loved one, or from someone who doesn’t even know us, let’s remember the end of the story – this story in Luke, and this story in life. Let’s remember that while our lives may look like that of the prodigal son’s brother, we are one step, one action, one unkind choice, away from being the prodigal ourselves.
Dear friend, and to my own dear heart,
if you or I were the prodigal,
wouldn’t we LONG for the Father to see us a far way down the road
and come running to receive us Home again?
Friends, truly that’s all that matters, isn’t it?
We can be saved, from pain, from fear, from hurt, from death.
The end of the story is life.
Rejoicing in Salvation
Who can we take with us? How many other broken hearts can we gather and take Home to the Father? The Father is waiting – whether we have remained steadfast, or whether we have taken every path except the right path.
Luke 15 is made up of 3 parables, each one talking about loss of something precious. In each parable, Jesus describes the rejoicing over the salvation (the finding of) the lost item. Those who don’t stray, those who remain faithful – their reward is in heaven. The angels have already rejoiced over their choice of salvation. They were lost and then they were found. Just like the prodigal.
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7
If I was lost, or if you were lost – no, when we were lost – heaven rejoiced over our salvation! Remember, trouble is ours in this world – anger, frustration, pain, hurt. But this world is not our home. Our home is with our Father, whether we are the steadfast brother, or the prodigal brother.
Our Home is with our Father.
And He saw us a long way, far off down the road,
and gathered us up when we came running to Him.
And He will do the same for all of us,
prodigal or steadfast.