25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ 28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ 31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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!’”
You can call them grumblers, complainer, or gripers and they come in all shapes and sizes. It’s not hard to spot the pouting prodigal who proudly position themselves in the pews, they are the ones who are seldom happy and are constantly complaining. They usually begin a sentence with, “now I don’t mean to be critical but…” and then that’s exactly what they do, they criticize. What you want to say to them is, “come on in and join the party.” The problem is that many of them would rather be miserable and stand on the outside with their arms crossed, holding onto their critical spirit than celebrate. Just like the older brother we too can suffer from a sickness that sours the soul, where we would rather criticize than celebrate. It’s easy to get upset and even angry at the prideful pouters but we must remember that the Father loves them, and we must as well. Chapter 15 begins with these words: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” It was to this group of “godly grumblers” that Jesus told the three parables which highlighted God’s extreme grace and their extreme lack of love. The father in the parable states that, “this son of mine was dead. Death here is not a physical death, but the death that comes from disobedience. It’s the results of rebellion and running away from a relationship with God, sin always separates and causes suffering. In Ephesians Chapter 2 Paul says: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…All of us also lived among them at one time…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead…it is by grace you have been saved.” What we tend to forget is that we were all dead at one time but because of God’s grace we were saved. Our God is like a lovesick Father, who longs for His children. When we return in repentance He does not hold our sins against us, but forgives us and throws a party. While we are still a long way off, God runs to us, and embraces us. Are you running to repentance or rebellion? One son sought the Father the other sulked. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law who were represented by the older son, became angry and refused to go in to the party. They got mad at God because He didn’t play by their rules. Not only did they reject the idea of repentance but they rejected God’s rejoicing. They were angry because God chose to rejoice and welcomes sinners. When Jesus told the Pharisees the parable he was reminding them of who God really was and what He was really about. But did the Pharisees and the teachers of the law get it, and more importantly do we get it? Do we really see how great a God we serve? Are we grasping His grace or groaning at the “sinners.” Are we living in awe or in anger over His forgiveness? Does His mercy motivate us to love and pursue the party or live life separated from His lavish love? How do you respond to repentance, are you running to God or wrapped up in pity? Where are you in this parable? Are you on the inside participating in the party and celebrating, or standing outside with your arms folded, refusing to come in because God doesn’t play by your rules? And who is the real prodigal in this parable? Is it the one with the shady past, or the one who stays outside? Is it the one covered in the filth of the pig pen or the one who won’t forgive? The harsh reality is that the dead and lost one is the one who stubbornly chooses to remain outside the Father’s party. There are prideful pouters in every pew, who get upset when people raise their hands to God in worship, yet they willingly lift their hands in the air as they shout “touchdown” at a football game. They would gladly shout their praise in a football stadium yet refuse to praise in the Fathers sanctuary. Let me ask you why would we go wild over a touchdown yet be so timid and reserved over worship? Why do we so enthusiastically celebrate the temporary but remain stoically silent over the eternal? Why do we act like sour pusses when it comes to praising our Savior but shout when it comes to sports? Not only was the pouting brother performance driven, possessions blind and relationally removed but he focused on:
- Pity not praise
In all three parables, God was the One who was celebrating. So to every pouting prodigal, God says, come join me in MY celebration. In Luke, right before the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus says in verse 10: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The angels join in the joy over the one who repents, so why wouldn’t we? The religious while they haven’t sinned by running off and going wild, chose not to rejoice at the radical change of the rebellious. What has always intrigued me about this story is the ending; unlike Hollywood that tries to neatly tie up the ending this one is left wide open. Our hearts are left hanging; does the older brother storm off into the sunset or turn to his father and ask for forgiveness? Does he go to the party and join in the praise or pursue the path of pouting? The parable simply leaves the older brother fuming outside the party. What did he do? We don’t know but we do know what the Pharisees who symbolized the older brother did. Instead of rejoicing at the return of Israel’s “lost sheep” who were gathering around Jesus, the Pharisees and teachers of the law conspired to kill Jesus. Instead of rejoicing and life, there was anger and death. The greater question than “what did the pouting son do”, is what are you going to do? Are you going to be a pouting prodigal caught up in the poison of your pride or will you join the party and rejoice over the rebel who repents? One thing is for sure, if you are going to proceed to the party then you better check your bitter, complaining spirit at the door. It’s the prodigal people that flock to Jesus, because they are really thankful, and it’s the pouting people that keep finding this offensive. They have little room for love because their lives are full of rules and record keeping. In their arrogance they are blinded by their own achievements. While others sin is so seemingly obvious, they are blind to their own. They let ingratitude rob them of hearing the heart of the Father. The older son acted like he was the one who had been hurt by his brothers actions, yet he had lost nothing, it was the Father whose heart had been hurt. Hurt not once but twice, by both the rebellious son and the self-righteous one. It’s sad when the Father’s heart is hurt by those who willingly walk away from Him and squander the blessings, but what about the wounds from the sanctimonious sons? The problem with the pious is they never enjoy the party. Are you a party pooper, sitting on your pity potty refusing to praise and give thanks? The younger brother learned more about true riches out of the poverty of his poor decisions than the older brother did out of the piety of his proper ones. What party are you going to, the pitty party or the party of praise? Are you going to spend your time pouting or praising?