I’m grateful we were able to cover each character in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The older brother’s part at the end is often neglected, so I’m glad we were able to dig into it.
The purpose of analyzing a specific character in one of the parables isn’t to be able to point fingers at the people that act that way in our lives. The purpose of analyzing a character in a parable is to understand better the width and depth of human brokenness, seeing as we can all relate — at least in some way — to every far off character Jesus comes up with. But we are also able to see clearly the radical, irrational, unconditional love of God that chases us, even after we learn that we’re worse than we thought we were.
There’s at least a little plot in all of our hearts occupied by the older brother. There is a part of us that really wants to believe that we’re better than other people. There’s a part of us that compares ourselves to the people around us. And there’s a part of us that consciously and subconsciously comes up with rules to follow, so that we don’t break other bigger rules. And that part of us is dominated by fear and guilt, telling us we’re so close to the acceptance of God, but never quite there.
But believers who work for the love and acceptance of God are working for something they already have. They’re turning in a recycled can for a few cents while they’re holding a winning lottery ticket. They’re rubbing twigs together in the middle of a forest fire.
We are looking for a righteousness that will get us into heaven, and we already have it in Jesus. But we keep trying to work.
Accepting the righteousness of Jesus and then continuing to work for the love and acceptance of God suggests that the righteousness of Jesus lacks something that you think you can add.
Thankfully, nothing can take that righteousness away from us, and God still redeems and reconciles that plot in our heart that the older brother has taken over.
But there’s one more thing about this story that I don’t want to miss: the guy who’s telling it. We could spend weeks breaking this story down and never acknowledge that Jesus is the one telling it to us. Why is that important?
First, this story is communicating the heart of the Father to us. And who better to tell us about the heart of the Father than the Son, empowered by the Spirit, both of whom spent eternity before time in communion with the Father.
Next, Jesus is the better younger brother. Jesus also left his father and Jesus also spent everything. Jesus left the father to come to earth in order to provide for us a way to the father by completely spending his own life. The younger brother was selfish; Jesus was selfless.
Finally, Jesus is the better older brother. Unlike the older brother, Jesus actually did follow all of the rules perfectly. Jesus fulfilled both the letter and the heart of the law in a way that no one ever has and no one ever will again.
However, the father was ready to accept the younger son and the older son without punishment. When both sons encountered the father, that was his response. But when Jesus encountered the Father on the cross, Jesus was bearing the past, present and future sin of the world in front of a just God. And what followed was the transaction that would give us the righteousness of Jesus.
The reason the Father is ready and willing to accept us with open arms is because Christ crucified takes away every reason the Father has to deny us.
God doesn’t want to clean us up from the inside out. God doesn’t want us to get our behavior in order so he can get to our hearts. God goes straight for the heart, and everything else falls in place, from inside out.
God doesn’t want your work. God doesn’t want your speech. God wants your heart. I can’t tell you exactly what life will be like once you give it to him, but I can tell you this: you won’t be disappointed.