March 4, 2015
(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
Act Two of the Three-Act Play concerns the elder son of a wealthy Jewish father with two boys. This elder son did not go off “…to a far country, and there waste…his possessions with prodigal living.” (Luke 15:3). He stayed home and worked the farm in obedience to his father. But he was just trying to keep in the good graces of the old man so he could inherit all the family wealth! He did not care for his father, just the father’s riches! So when his younger sibling came home with a repentant heart, and to his father’s gracious welcome, the elder brother was angry and refused to celebrate his brother’s return!
But first, a question: When Jesus told this parable in Luke 15:11 through 32 why didn’t He bring resolution to this last difficulty raised within the story? As the parable ends, the elder son continued to be estranged from his father and his bother, and – apparently – from God also! Act Two of the Three-Act Play concerning this elder brother seems to close with a lot of loose ends still hanging:
• Was there reconciliation among all the family members?
• Did this first-born son ever realize and understand the grace-filled heart and actions of his father?
• Did he ever repent of his self-righteous attitude?
• Was he reconciled finally to God?
This raises another question that is very pertinent here: What should have taken place when the Prodigal Son ran off with a third of his father’s wealth? The father would have wanted to go and search for his wayward son. But he was elderly, and the strain of such an undertaking might have been too much for the old man. But his son who remained home should have stepped up and volunteered, “Father, I will go to seek and find my brother, and bring him back into our family. It matters not what the hardships; whatever the cost, I will do it!” After all, it was this elder son’s responsibility to keep the family together, and to try to promote godliness and prosperity in the lives of the family members. That’s why God had designated in Deuteronomy 21:17 that the first-born son would inherit a double portion of his father’s estate!
Did he do it? No! He felt no obligation to either his father or his brother! The only obligation this first-born son acknowledged was to be considered good enough to stay in his father’s will!
Do you remember the Prelude we considered in the last blog? Who were those included in the second group of hearers mentioned in Luke 15:2? “…the Pharisees and scribes….” What was God’s purpose for leaders among the Jews? They were to be shepherds among the sheep – the common people of Israel. And what was the job of a good shepherd? In Zechariah 11:15 through 17, God describes the actions of a foolish and worthless shepherd. If we take that negative description in verse 16 and eliminate the negatives, turning it exactly 180 degrees, it will beautifully lay out how a good shepherd should act:
For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will…care for those who
are cut off,…who will…seek the young,…who will…heal those that are broken,
…who will…feed those that still stand.
This is what the Pharisees and scribes should have been doing for their fellow Israelites – including the tax collectors and the sinners mentioned in Luke 15:1! If these Jewish leaders considered the common folk of Israel lost, then they should have been out seeking the lost to bring them back home – home to the obedient Israelites and home to God! The Pharisees and scribes were the elder brother in Jesus’ parable – self-righteous and unrepentant!
And what would have happened beyond the borders of Israel if the Jewish leaders were fulfilling God’s intended purpose for them? Jesus summed it up in John 13:35: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” The Gentile nations – the non-Jews – would have sat up and taken notice of the love among the Jews and the care they provided for one another! As it was, Paul wrote in Romans 2:24, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
What a terrible heritage any individual or group of people can leave if they hold a self-righteous and unrepentant attitude!
Oh dear Christian! Do not allow yourself to be identified with those represented by the elder son!