the story of the prodigal son found in Luke chapter 15 is one of the most recognizable parables of Jesus. people who have spent any amount of time away from a church building and then return automatically identify with the prodigal. maybe you place with the Father if you have a child that has disregarded grace and watch for their return, ready to run to them at the slightest movement toward the house. i commented on my identification as a prodigal for a paper i wrote for class (https://www.eggsandjesus.com/2021/10/28/73/). the elder son’s reaction is the part of this parable that often goes overlooked and perhaps equally important as the returning son. it reveals his heart and character. i want to compare this portion of scripture to the church’s attitude. if we were to overcome the spirit of the elder brother, it could very well be the key to unlocking the next higher level in Christ and end-time revival.
recently, i listened to The Ledger Network podcast interviewing Brother Mike Herbst (https://www.theledgernetwork.com/1748066/9728584-the-ledger-show-the-mike-herbst-interview). they discussed this parable and the elder brother. as i listened, i could not help to weep for those with the more senior brother spirit. personally spending time away from the House of the Father, i immediately identified with the prodigal upon my return. it was a decade or more before i had heard anyone speak of the elder brother. it mentions the brother’s reaction, the Father’s response was briefly alluded to, but the subject of the hour turned toward the wayward son.
upon his brother’s return, the elder brother became angry at the sights and sounds of celebration. mad in the sense of exasperation, feeling intensely irritated and frustrated. he had never wandered. he had put in so many years of faithful service. Jesus was speaking to a pharisaical spirit that was present at this meeting. the Pharisees were self-righteous and had let religion take the place of the relationship God desired. they regarded rules over a daily walk. yet, there was something to be said for their devotion. this group was always looking for Jesus to say the wrong thing to pounce and constantly criticized Him for interacting with sinners. despite their attitude and customs, Jesus wanted to see them repent. yes, they were called out, and emphasis was put on their critical perspective due to the persecution placed upon the gospel writers. in the end, they were souls that were worthy of a cross, the same as any prodigal.
when the elder brother became angry, he would not go into the celebration in this passage. his devotion to duty would not allow his return into the house due to his disagreement with the festival. he had physically been there all these years, but he separated himself from the joy experienced at this event. at this point in the story, the elder brother becomes the prodigal; he has mentally denied the very act of grace. even when the Father came out to him, the elder brother complained of how the Father had never treated him in such a way. he makes sure to point out the wrongs of his little brother. to all of this, the Father responds with, “all that I have is thine” and “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:31-32, KJV, Tyndale 1987).
i relate the response of the Father to a message that my pastor recently preached about “Make Room for the Broken” (https://subsplash.com/firstpentecostalchur-1/lb/mi/+cptpd2b). we had a daughter go off to college and, upon her return, not one of her sisters wanted to share their room. we made room for her return by closing in our back porch and making it comfortable, beyond just livable. we redid the ceiling, and i added air conditioning vents. we replaced ceiling fans, and we added a fresh coat of paint. we welcomed her home to a place she could rest and call her own. her youngest sister could have complained about the pink princess ceiling fan installed upon the construction of the house more than a decade before.
the time for the church to embrace the response of the Father is now. in the parable, the very first thing the Father relates is all that he has belongs to us. His provision, inheritance, earnest, spirit, love, protection, healing, and salvation belong to us. at any moment, at the mention of His name, we have the right to the resources of heaven. Jesus clearly states that nothing will be withheld. that should be cause enough for celebration! the elder brother was at the Father’s house but never enjoyed any of the benefits of faithful service. too often, we go through the motions, and religion takes precedence over relationships. we attend every service, but we watch the clock and dream of the lunch buffet. the first step toward overcoming the spirit of the elder brother is utilizing the available resources in our own lives. if we were to practice the authority afforded us, i believe the attitudes would fall into place “super” naturally. the love we feel would spill over, and the perspective of the watchful Father would become our own. this perception is not easy and requires us to force our flesh on purpose. the more we act like the Father, the more His response will become automatic in us.
secondly, the Father needed to reiterate why they celebrated. there should be gladness when someone returns to the house. Jesus gave us the ministry of reconciliation. each time this purpose is fulfilled in our lives, we should celebrate! salvation is presented to all; there is not a chosen people. the promise was always that all nations would be blessed. the parable points to the sinful separation from the Father and restoration to eternal life. the elder brother was at the house but chose not to go into the celebration. who is separated now?
Jesus said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). as Christ-followers, we should embrace the mission of Jesus and celebrate every time we find that which was lost! notice the Father in the parable did not harshly chastise the elder brother. he was there. he worked daily accomplishing the requirements of the house. the elder brother just needed to make a slight adjustment in his perception to fully embrace and understand why the Father would be so happy about his brother’s return. even in the midst of all he had done and the turmoil he had created, the Father deemed him worthy of son-ship.
our parable begins with, “a certain man had two sons.” one left in a disgraceful fashion, and it was as if he were dead, but in the Father’s mind, he was still his son. had the elder brother adopted the attitude that, despite all that had happened, that person was his brother, maybe the story would have been told that the Father and the brother ran to meet him “when he was yet a great way off.” the difference in verse 20 is that the father “had compassion.” my prayer for today’s church is that we have the same compassion the Father possesses, we would make room for the broken, and that we would join in the celebration! all that the Father has is ours, and there is plenty to go around. your status as being faithful will not go unrewarded. “Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:14-16). “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). if we were to adopt these principles and put them into action, our churches would be at capacity, and no one would have cause to accuse the brethren of hypocritical attitudes. we could invite all to the marriage feast without reservation.