Our biggest challenge is to open our eyes. I am not talking about opening our physical eyes but our spiritual eyes. Sometimes we can think that our greatest challenge is to change our lives. Often Christianity is pictured in this way. You need to change your life. But God tells us that he will change our lives if we will open our eyes. Life change does not happen because our spiritual eyes are not open. Jesus is telling a parable where he is trying to open the eyes of the religious leaders in his day because they are complaining about him welcoming tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15:1-2). In our last lesson we looked at the love and compassion of the father for his lost son. It is a beautiful picture of God’s love and we need to see God’s love toward us as we go through difficult times. Opening our eyes to the love of God is necessary to maintain faith in our Lord. But the parable about the lost son is not complete at verse 24 in Luke 15. Jesus has more to say and more to teach. Up to this point the parable has helped us understand the inexplicable and incomprehensible love of God. Now Jesus is going to make us look at ourselves. Let us return to our text in Luke 15 and read verses 25-32.
The Perspective of the Older Son (15:25-30)
We left the parable with the father calling for a celebration because the lost son has returned. The older son is in the field, implying that he is still working for his father. So the older son walks back to the house and hears music and dancing. The celebration is in full swing. He asks one of the servants what is going on. Why is there a party happening? The servant explains that his brother has returned and his father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.
But we have a surprising response from the older brother. Instead of having compassion regarding his brother and instead of having joy in his heart over his return, the older brother becomes angry and refuses to enter the house. Just imagine the picture of this brother who stubbornly refuses to come in and enjoy the celebration over his brother. So the father goes out to the older brother and pleads with him. But he refuses to come in. Why will he not come in? He explains to his father the problems he has. We are going to see is that the older son has three perspectives that keep him from entering the house.
Look at the first thing the older son says to his father. “Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders” (15:29 CSB). Do you see his view of the relationship he has with his father? His perspective is that all he does is work for his father. He has been serving and slaving away for his father. Notice that the older son does not say that he loves being the father’s son and that is why he works for his father. His perspective is that he has an oppressive father. All of these years he has been slaving for him.
I want us to consider this perspective for a moment. Is this how we look at our life in Christ? Do we perceive our time with our Father in heaven as slaving these many years for him? The older son sees his father as giving a bunch of orders and commands that he must slave away following. Let your mind run through the scriptures and consider how many people of God speak of their relationship with God as slaving away for years for him? Do the psalms of David speaks about how he has slaved for the Lord all of these years? Do we read about the apostles declaring how they have slaved away for the Lord as if the Lord is an oppressive father? Who cries out that God is just a bunch of commands and orders? You might remember that it was actually the religious leaders in Jesus’ day who had turned God into a bunch of oppressive rules that must be followed. But that is not what Jesus said about the Father. Jesus did not say that God is a bunch of rules and you just need to follow the rules. Jesus never says to just do what he says. Jesus tells us that following him is not oppressive and that life with him is oppressive. Listen to what Jesus said.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30 CSB)
Jesus does not say that his father is oppressive. Rather, Jesus says that life is oppressive and, if you will come to him, he will ease your oppression. If you will come to the Father through Jesus you will find rest for your life and you will see that the burden is not oppressive, but light. The older son sees working for his father as slaving away. If this is our view of God, then we are doing something wrong. We are looking at the Father in the wrong way. The older son does not look at his father as a relationship but as rules and regulations.
Imagine if the only way you looked at your parents was they are the people who give you a bunch of rules. You did not see a relationship with them. You only saw them as cleaning your room, taking out the trash, and whatever other rules were given to you while you lived in the house. You did not look at your parents for a relationship with experiences of joy and happiness but as a bunch of rules that needed to be followed. Can you imagine looking at your family in that way? Now, maybe that is all you had and then you know that this is why you do not have feelings for your parents because that is all they cared about was you following the rules. But that is not God. God does not want you to look at him this way. God does not want that kind of relationship with you at all. If you see him as rules to follow, you have completely missed what your Father in heaven wants.
For the second perspective the older son has we need to look at what else he says in Luke 15:29.
But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” (Luke 15:29 NIV)
The second perspective we see in the older son is about himself. The first perspective is that God is a bunch of rules, commands, and orders. The first perspective is that God is oppressive as we slave away doing everything he says. But the second perspective reveals what the older son thinks about himself. The older son thinks he has never disobeyed the father’s orders. This is an interesting way to look at yourself. I like to think this about myself. I was a good kid and I always did what my parents told me to do. I like to think that. I have painted my childhood history with that brush. I was a good kid. But is it really true?
This is another troubling perspective that we adopt that causes our eyes to be closed rather than open. We think that we are good. We think that we have done what God wants. We are good people. We have not done anything wrong, especially when we compare ourselves with the really bad people of the world. The problem is that it simply is not true. We want to think and may even remember our lives in such a way so that we will believe that we have done all that God has said. But Jesus came to burst that bubble. The first recorded sermon of Jesus, what we call the Sermon on the Mount, tried to open our eyes to the truth. Consider some of the things Jesus said in that sermon.
Jesus said you think that you are doing well because you have not committed murder. But if you are angry at another person you are liable to judgment (Matthew 5:22). So have we never disobeyed our Lord? Jesus also said that you think you are doing well because you keep your oaths that you have sworn before the Lord. But do not just think about your oaths. Think about always doing what you say. Let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matthew 5:37). So have we always done what we said we would do? Jesus also said that people think they are doing well because they love their neighbors and only hate their enemies. But Jesus said that you are to love your enemies also and bless those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Have we always done this? We could continue with this exercise as there is more in Matthew 5. But this is enough to see that if we think we are good people and have not disobeyed our Father, then we are not seeing clearly. Our eyes our closed. As we stated at the beginning of the lesson, our greatest challenge is to open our eyes and see ourselves properly. Jesus is telling us that we are not as good as we think we are. We have not come remotely close to doing all that our Father has asked of us. The problem is that we become self-righteous and judgmental when we do not see understand this. We need to open our eyes and honestly look at ourselves. Now let us look at the third perspective this older son has. Let’s go back to verses 29-30.
But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29–30 NIV)
Notice the third perspective this older son has is that the father never gave him anything to celebrate. The son says that he has been slaving for the father for years and he has never done anything wrong and during all that time, the father has done nothing for him. The older son tells the father that the father does nothing for him. What the father has done for him is insufficient. The father has not done enough for him. The older son is not satisfied with having a relationship with the father. The presence of the father is not enough. Notice what the complaint truly is. The complaint is that the father did not even give him a young goat. Nevermind an expensive fattened calf, the father has not even given him a goat.
The disdain continues as he does not call the younger son his brother, but “this son of yours.” He has no love for his brother. He does not care about his brother. He has no connection to his brother. The older son simply complains about what the father has done for the younger son. Look at what you did for him! He is like Jonah, hating that the father gives out blessings and grace. How dare you be so generous and kind! I want us to see what heart is exposed in the older son. The father is not the treasure. The father is the means to the treasure. He does not really care about his father. He cares about what he thinks the father should give him. The older son cares about his expectations. There are things he should receive for slaving away for the father. His love is not for his father, but for what he thinks he deserves because he has worked for the father. These three perspectives that we see in the older brother are the reasons why he is condemned and is not in his father’s house. It is important that we see this picture. The older son is not in his father’s house because he has these three perspectives. So what will be the Father’s answer?
The Father’s Response (15:31-32)
The father’s answer to his older son is simple but very important. His first word is “son.” You are a son. You have completely missed who you are in this relationship. You are a son. Rejoice because you are a child of the father. You should have joy because you are enjoying the status as “son.” But the older son missed this. He overlooked the fact that he was a son. He missed the most important part of life. You are a child of the Father. The older son has no view of his status.
Second, the father tells the older son that he is always with the father. Think about these words. You are always with the father. Rejoice because you are with the father. Rejoice because you belong to the father. Rejoice because you are a child of the father and are always with him. We must open our eyes and see what we have as children of God. We are always with the father. This relationship is supposed to everything to us. The older son had no view of the relationship he had because he was a son.
Third, the father tells the older son that everything he has belongs to him. The older son is complaining that the father never gave him a young goat for celebrating with his friends. The father responds, “How did I not give you a young goat? Everything I have is yours.” You have everything because you are a child of the father. It is all yours. The older son had no view of his possession and inheritance he has from his father. Rejoice because everything that belongs to the Father is yours. Have you ever thought about that? Everything that belongs to God belongs to us. How can we say that God does not give us what we want or need when everything God has is ours? How can we not see what we have in the Lord and rejoice? Think about it: children enjoy all that the parents have. God is telling us that everything he has (which is all creation) is ours to enjoy. You have it all when you are in the Father’s house.
Finally, the father tells the older son that it is fitting to celebrate and be glad over the lost son. The older son has no view of the father’s love. He does not care that the heart of God is for people. God does not care about how the younger son wasted his possessions. God cares about people. God wants his son back. The older son does not understand this. God loves people. God cares about people. God’s heart is for every person and we have no room for having disdain for any human. God does not simply want supposed good people to repent but does not want any to perish but all to come to repentance.
I will return to how the lesson began. Our greatest challenge is to open our eyes to see life properly. If we see life the way God wants us to see life, then God will transform our lives. But if we do not see God clearly and do not look at life properly, nothing will change and we will be like the older son who is left out of the father’s house by our own stubbornness. As we go through these difficult times with this pandemic, it is important that we consider what God is telling us. What is God teaching you? What is God telling you? How have we been looking at God? Have we been looking at God like the older son did?
If we see God as a bunch of rules that have to be followed, then we do not have a relationship with God and are not in the Father’s house because that is not what Jesus came for. If we see ourselves as good and everyone else has a sin problem, then we do not have a relationship with God and are not in the Father’s house because Jesus came for those who understand their sinful condition. If we look at God and think that he has done nothing for and has never given us any reason to celebrate, then we do not have a relationship with God and are not in the Father’s house because we do not see God as the treasure. We are making life about our wealth and comfort and not seeing that life is about having Jesus. These are three devastating perspectives that keep us from being with the Father. If you have Jesus, you have everything. God is pleading with you to come into his house. But you have to open your eyes and see who the Father is and what he has done for you.