Luke 15:11-32[i]

“We had to celebrate this happy day.  For your brother was dead and has come back to life!  He was lost, but now he is found!’”  (Luke 15:32)

Who has Jesus come to save?

Is it the well that need a physician?  Is it not the unrighteous that need a Savior?

Will you be good enough to get into heaven? 

If your good works are put on a scale and balanced against your bad works, which one would weigh more?

How will we be judged anyway?  Will our good works be weighed against our bad works? 

Are you one of those who are hoping you are good enough to get into heaven?

Jesus uses the story of “The Prodigal Son” to teach us how the Father views His children who have gone astray.  This story helps us understand the nature of our relationship with God the Father.

Luke 15 starts with this story.
1Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.  2This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!  (Luke 15:1-2)

The word translated “complain” here in this passage literally means to, “constantly, intensely murmur (grumble, complain).”[ii]  The Pharisees and teachers of religious law were intensely murmuring and grumbling that Jesus would associate with such sinners.  Jesus addressed this situation with the story of the Prodigal Son.  This is what verse 11 is talking about when it says, “To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story.”  The point he is illustrating is given twice, first in verse 7 and then in verse 10 of Luke 15.  Verse 10 says, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” 

The people gathered to hear Jesus represent two extremes. 

First, there were tax collectors and what are called notorious sinners.  Tax collectors were considered the worst sinners.  They are representatives of the group summed up as notorious sinners.  This group included prostitutes, homosexuals, drunkards and drug addicts.  They are what we would consider bad people.  Their presence made the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law uncomfortable.

Next, there were the Pharisees and teachers of religious law.  These were the ones who were complaining.  Pharisees were the strictest and purest sect of the Jews.  They strove for perfection in keeping the Law of Moses.  The teachers of religious law were their counterparts.  These were the experts and authorities on what the Hebrew Scriptures said and taught.  The Pharisees and teachers of religious law represented the extreme opposite of the tax collectors and notorious sinners.  They are what we would consider good people.

In telling His story, Jesus built in both extremes. 

The younger brother is like the tax collectors and notorious sinners.  His behavior is shocking and unthinkable.  Given the culture that surrounds the story, this young man’s behavior would have been unforgivable and beyond redemption.  He represents those who the rest of the world would look at and say, “There is no hope for their salvation.” It is this kind of sinner that has no good works to put in a scale to balance against their evil deeds.

The older brother is like the Pharisees and teachers of religious law.  He does everything right – until the end of the story.  He keeps all the rules and plays the part of a good son.  He represents those who the rest of the world looks at and thinks they are as close as one can get to being perfect.  Surely, they have a mountain of good works to offset any evil deeds they might have.

Then, of course, there is the father.  He represents our Father, God.  Both of his sons have a broken relationship with the father during this story.  The younger son rejects his father, claims his inheritance and leaves.  Although the father was under no obligation to give in to such an outlandish request, he does.  He gives the younger son his inheritance and lets him go.

This is how God is.  He gives us the ability to choose.  This is the reason for all the evil in the world today.  It is because we all like sheep have gone astray and turned to our own way.  (Isaiah 53:6)  Even the best of us have some of the younger son in us.  We have rebelled and chosen to go our own way rather than God’s.  And, God in His grace lets us.

When the Father welcomes home the brother who had gone away, the older brother shows us his broken relationship with the Father.  He refuses to celebrate the return of his brother.  He refuses to go into the feast that his father has prepared.  This is just like the Pharisees who were criticizing Jesus for teaching sinners.  They refused to accept Jesus because he was opening the Kingdom of God to sinners.  They murmured and grumbled intensely at such an action.  How could such sinners be accepted?

We are all represented in the two extremes of the younger and the older brother.  We all fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes, the self-righteous or the outright sinner.  The difference is that the outright sinner, like the tax collector, recognizes he or she has done wrong.  The self-righteous does not.  In our humanity, we look at the good and bad deeds of people and judge whether the person is good or bad.  We hold a scale and try to determine the uprightness or evilness of a person.

However, Jesus paints a different picture with this story. 

The father in Jesus’s story is not weighing good deeds against bad deeds.  He is a father who loves his sons.  When the younger son comes to his senses and decides to come home, the father runs to meet him.  This father’s behavior is almost as unthinkable as the son’s.  This son has disgraced the family, insulted the father and wasted the father’s money.  The father does not mention any of this.  What is more, the father runs, which for an elderly patriarch was unthinkable and undignified. He runs to his son, embraces him and kisses him.

The father calls for a celebration and spares no expense in the preparations.  There is no mention of the son having to pay back what he wasted, make up for the wrong he has done or earn his way back into the family.  With great compassion, the father welcomes his son home.

Meanwhile, the older son is out in the fields working.  When he comes home for the evening, he hears the sounds of celebration and asks one of the servants what is going on.  The servant tells him that his brother is back and that they are celebrating.  The older son is angry and refuses to go in.  Again, the father does the unthinkable, goes out and pleads with his son to come in.

This son is angry.  He is angry that his wayward brother should be celebrated, when he, the good one, was not being celebrated.  His complaint about never being offered a young goat for a feast is petty.  It is the kind of self-centered reasoning that comes up when we consider ourselves better than someone else.  The older son has been stacking his good works up in a scale and he is way out in front of his younger brother when it comes to good works.

The father’s answer shows us where God’s heart is in all of this.  The father says, “We had to celebrate this happy day.  For your brother was dead and has come back to life!  He was lost, but now he is found!”  (Luke 15:32)

We see two things about God in the close of this story.  First, in pleading with the older brother, Jesus illustrates God’s attitude toward those who think they are better than everybody else.  He pleads with them to come in and celebrate the salvation of the lost.  Second, in accepting the younger son, Jesus illustrates the Father’s provision of salvation no matter what the cost.

There are no scales.  None of us is good enough to be admitted into heaven by our own righteousness.  Instead, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation.  Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.  Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.
[ii]  Helps Word Studies copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc.


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