In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus told the Parable of the Prodigal to rebuke the Pharisees and scribes for grumbling against Jesus who was eating with tax collectors and sinners. I recognize that in the context the prodigal represents the sinners, the older brother represents the scribes and Pharisees, and the Father represents Jesus or God. He was asking the scribes and Pharisees to rejoice that the sinners were coming to Him. They just couldn’t get it.
However, as we apply this story to us today, I can’t help but ask when the prodigals come seeking help, how do I respond. Am I like the father or like the older brother?
Keep in mind what is happening here. The prodigal son had made all kinds of mistakes. The prodigal’s demise was completely of his own making. He was in dire straits because he had done stupid and sinful things. He hadn’t lived right, but life treated him poorly. He hadn’t just been a victim of circumstance. In the story, notice that he didn’t actually come back to the father seeking forgiveness; he came back seeking help. He didn’t say, “Forgive me and accept me back as one of your sons.” He planned to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” Why was he planning to say this? Because he was eating with the pigs and the hired servants in his father’s house were better off than he was. His father could help.
However, he didn’t even get to finish his speech. The father was so excited that the son had realized his errors and was seeking him, he jumped in and said, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him…” You know the rest.
There was a fly in this ointment. The older brother got home and learned about the father’s compassion and mercy. He learned that the father hadn’t simply treated the prodigal like a servant but like a son. That “son of yours” didn’t deserve it. He had brought his misery on himself. He had made his mistakes. The older brother had never made mistakes. He hadn’t wasted his inheritance. He had always done just what the father asked. But the father hadn’t even given him a young goat. It would have been one thing if the younger son had lived like the older brother and life had just mistreated him. If he had ended up with the pigs through no fault of his own, the older brother could potentially see a reason for help. But this was ridiculous. It was perhaps even sinful. This was the wrong response. The right response was punishment. The right response was leaving him to suffer in the natural consequences of his own stupid, sinful mistakes.
Sadly, the older brother was unable to see the grace of his father in his own life. He hadn’t recognized that the clothes on his back came from the father. He didn’t see that every meal he had eaten in that home had come from his father. All he could see was his work and how he had accomplished so much for the father. This celebration should have been his, not the prodigal’s. The father should have declared a feast for him because of his goodness, not a celebration of this prodigal’s profligacy. The father should have shouted from the highest rooftop, “Look at my older son. He is awesome. Look at how well he has managed his life in my service. Let’s have a feast for him.” It was a slap in the face to his good service to watch this younger brother be helped when he hadn’t been as wise as the older. Which shows another struggle. The older brother didn’t understand what the celebration was about. The feast was not a reward for the prodigal’s sins. It was a celebration of the prodigal’s return. The prodigal recognized he had done something wrong and turned to the father for help. That should be celebrated. That should be met with mercy and compassion.
But what about us? When prodigals seek help, how do we respond? Are we like the father, responding with compassion and mercy? Or are we like the older brother, responding with self-righteous indignation? When the drug addict comes forward for the 100th time, do we turn up our nose or are we willing to embrace him and compassionately help him in this decision to return to the Father? “Why do the elders keep putting up with that man? Haven’t they noticed me? I’ve never done drugs.” When someone’s child goes astray spiritually, are we willing to weep with the parents who weep or do we remain aloof asking, “What did they expect with the way they raised that child?” Do we think to ourselves, “Why does everyone rush around to support them? I’m the one who raised good kids”? When poor stewards of money come to say they are in dire straits and they need advice and help, do we embrace them for recognizing their problem and offer compassion or do we judge them saying, “You made your bed, go lie in it. Nobody ever gave me any handouts. I’m doing so well because I’ve worked at it”? Do we grumble, thinking, “It just isn’t fair. It’s all these people who mess up their lives that get help. Nobody ever helps me”? When the adulterer whose family is falling apart asks the congregation to pray for her, do we not only pray for her but with her or do we walk passed with eyes askance, avoiding her look because we just can’t understand how anyone could do such a thing and then have the nerve to ask us to pray for her. Do we think, “How dare she come here asking for this after what she’s done. She should be more like me. I’ve never committed adultery”?
Of course, we are certain we are like the father because if folks from the world come to us with these awful stories but are willing to become a Christian, we race to them, embracing them, forgiving their past, and offering to help. However, keep in mind in the context of this story, the sinners and tax collectors were not “alien sinners” coming to God. They were children of the covenant who hadn’t kept the covenant. The Pharisees and scribes were lawyers of the covenant, spending their days and nights studying it to the nth degree. Yes, we’ll often be the father to folks from the world coming in, but what about to our younger or older brethren who have made different mistakes from us? Are we the father to them? Or are we the grumbling older brother, complaining, resting in self-righteousness?
Finally, at the heart of this story is the fact that the older brother did not recognize his own prodigality. It is utterly ridiculous for him to claim, “I never disobeyed your command.” He may not have gone off into the far country. He may not have been as vile and rebellious as the prodigal. However, there is not a son alive and never has been (except Jesus) who never disobeyed his father. He didn’t realize how much he needed the father’s mercy and compassion himself. He thought he had earned what he had and that the father hadn’t actually given him what he deserved. Perhaps if we can all recognize how prodigal we’ve been, how much we need mercy and compassion, we’ll be more like the father to our brethren.
So I’ll be holdin’ my breath
Right up ‘til the end
Until that moment when
I find the one that I’ll spend forever with.
‘Cause nobody wants to be the last one there.
‘Cause everyone wants to feel like someone cares.
Someone to love with my life in their hands,
There’s gotta be somebody for me like that.
‘Cause nobody wants to go it on their own
And everyone wants to know their not alone.
There’s somebody else that feels the same somewhere,
There’s gotta be somebody for me out there.
I certainly don’t want to minimize the desire to be complete and have a partner who walks through life with you as a loving spouse. Clearly, the story of Adam and Eve and all the Bible says about marriage demonstrates that.
However, the problem is far too many of us are looking for that one person out there whose mere presence can provide happiness and contentment. We have the idea that if we just met the right guy or girl we could have satisfaction for life. This misunderstanding has caused most of the broken homes that exist today. Young men and women met and felt some kind of chemistry, thinking, “This is the one.” Then after they were married for a time, that chemistry vanished and they believed they were mistaken. So they abandoned their spouse to search for that one special person.
Again, I know finding a good spouse is very important. But if we are looking for that kind of contentment and fulfillment from another person, we are always going to come up short. There is only one who can provide that for us. That one is God.
Hebrews 13:5 says, “…be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (ESV). If we want true contentment, happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction, we have to find it in God. Just read the Psalms and note from where the happiness and contentment for those writers came. Their refuge was God. Their rock was God. Their comfort was God. Their security was God. Their sanctuary was God. Their self-esteem was God. Their salvation was God.
We have to quit looking for all these things from other people. They simply can’t provide it for us. They will always fail and we will always be left hanging. God, on the other hand, can and will provide if we will simply let Him be our refuge and our comfort through all that life throws at us.
Are you tired of being alone? All those things you’re trying to get from others, instead, try God.
Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived about 300 B.C., said, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able and not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” Others have asked these same questions for the 2300 years since. However, in their seeming wisdom, they merely demonstrate how philosophers, enamored with their own wisdom cannot see the flaws in their own reasoning.
Epicurus and his philosophical offspring over the millennia have created a false dilemma. That is, they have developed a set of choices and acted like the choices they have listed are the only ones available when they are not.
Epicurus believed a God who is able to eradicate evil but doesn’t do so must be malevolent. So, there are but two choices. Either God is not able to do anything about evil or God is evil Himself. It didn’t occur to Epicurus that there is a third option. It never occurred to him that God might actually be wiser than him and have a better alternative.
Is it possible God sees a good end that can come from the evil and suffering that goes on in the world even today? Is it possible God allows evil because in His infinite wisdom He can actually use it in a way that benefits men if we will let it?
I suggest God who is able to eradicate all evil is unwilling to do so not because He is malevolent but because He loves us too much to do so. First, His love is demonstrated by granting us the free will to choose between good and evil. He loves us too much to force us to be good like Him. He lets us pursue our own course.
Second, He loves us enough to allow evil so that we may grow and learn to rely on Him, which leads to salvation (cf. II Corinthians 12:7-10; Romans 5:3-5). Without evil in the world, we would have no notion of our need to turn to and rely on God. We would be lost and never know it.
Third, He loves us enough to allow evil so we can learn to be merciful like Him (cf. Matthew 5:7). If there were no evil, we could not learn how to relieve the suffering of those who have endured evil. We could not learn to be like God.
Finally, God loved us enough to send His Son as an answer to all evil. By surrendering to Jesus (cf. Galatians 2:20), we can eradicate evil in our lives and help do so in others and prepare for the day God eradicates the world because it is evil.
Yes, evil exists, but not because God is malevolent. No, evil exists because God is love.
PS. As promised, you get extra bonus material on our website that those who only read the bulletin version of this article don’t get.
I just had to use the version of the pic above because of the smart-aleck comment whoever generated this version made. “Athiests (sic) Winning Since 33 A.D.” This poor individual, who doesn’t seem to even know how to spell “Atheists” also doesn’t get it. He sees the death of Jesus in A.D. 33. Certainly, on that Friday, it seemed like Atheists had won. Yet, on the third day, they found out they were losing.
Jesus claimed the victory by rising from the dead.
Of course, this atheist will deny that happened. However, this statement is a great logical contradiction for the atheist. In fact, by making this smart aleck comment, the author of the picture admits that Jesus was someone important. He was not just some unknown or fictitious person. He was and is a real person. He is someone that has to be dealt with if one is going to be an atheist. Further, note the use of A.D. What an admission of the importance of this man who is supposedly nothing but just one of us. All of time has been measured from this man.
Here is my challenge, if the atheists won in 33 A.D. by killing Jesus, produce His remains. If you can’t, then learn who was truly victorious in 33 A.D.