The scripture I am writing on is found in Luke 15 [click here to read]. We find Jesus in the midst of people who were considered sinners & dishonest and he teaches them using a parable, hoping to reveal the heart of the Father more clearly and the aim of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus taught this group of questionable people the Pharisees were there too. The Pharisees were a Jewish religious group that fanatically followed Old Testament laws, as well as their own religious traditions. There were highly respected (and even feared) in their community, but they were jealous and hated Jesus because He challenged their proud attitudes and their dishonorable motives and they criticized Him for associating with tax-collectors and sinners…something they wouldn’t do.
In the parable found in Luke 15 we have 3 main characters: the father, the older brother, and the prodigal son. Let’s talk about these 3 different people…
The prodigal son’s share of the estate would have been one-third, with the older son receiving two-thirds and in most cases you received it after the father died or retired from managing their estate. What is unusual here is that that prodigal son initiated the division of the estate and this shows almost and arrogant disregard for his father’s authority. He then sold off his share of the estate so that he could have cold, hard cash to do with what he wanted. He wanted to be free to live as he pleased, and he had to hit rock bottom before coming to his senses. Jesus paints us a picture of an unbelievably arrogant, unpleasant, immoral, foolish and irreligious young man. Scripture says he had to hire himself out…that he had to feed pigs and because he was so poor he longed to fill his stomach with the very food he was feeding the pigs. And get this, according to Jewish law, pigs were unclean animals, not fit for food or to be used as sacrifices. Jews would not even touch pigs. For a Jew to have to feed them it was great humiliation and to eat their food was even worse and so this may sound gross to us today, but for the Pharisees in this audience it would have been completely horrifying. The prodigal son finally came to his senses and made a plan to return to his father and try to work for him.
In this story the father watched and waited for his sons’ return, ready to greet him if he returned. God’s love is constant and patient and welcoming. God tells us clearly in 2 Peter3:9 that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” And in Romans 8 we are told “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God will search for us and give us opportunities to respond, but He will not force us to come to Him. Like the father in this story, God waits patiently for us to come to our senses. Even though the prodigal son left out of selfishness, God’s great love reaches out and finds sinners not matter why or how they got lost.
The older brother found great difficulty in accepting his younger brother when he returned. Wouldn’t you? People who repent after leading notoriously sinful lives are often the hardest ones to accept. In this story, the father’s response is compared to the older brother’s response. The father forgave because he was filled with love. The older brother refused to forgive because he was bitter. He resented his brother and even his father for forgiving him and welcoming him back. But get this: his resentment made him just as lost to the father’s love as the younger, prodigal brother had been.
In Jesus’s story, in this parable, the older brother represents the Pharisees who were angry and resentful that sinners where being welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. After all, the Pharisees must have thought that since they had sacrificed so much and done so much for God, wouldn’t they be the only ones allowed into the Kingdom of God. Our self-righteousness can get in the way of us understanding God’s love for ourselves and even for others.
If you were to compare your life right now to that of the younger son, where are you? Are you off in a distant land? Feeling alone, far from “home”? Are you coming to your senses about God’s love and forgiveness for your life? Have you returned home and you are enjoying the Father’s love? Each of us needs to learn that anyone can return to God, that they can confess their sin and need for Him and be forgiven.
Do you struggle with the way that God seems love accept and forgive those who don’t seem to deserve it? God wants you to be ready to forgive and accept those who return to Him and I believe God wants us to understand that the Kingdom of God is all about accepting and loving sinners because it is more effective then condemning them. The condemned find it harder to come home…
In this story, who are you? The lost son or the older brother? Regardless of who you most identify with, God is patient with you and He loves you. For the prodigal’s out there: nothing you have done will make God love you less. And for the “older brothers” out there: nothing you can do will make God love you more.
One thought on “The Kingdom of God & the Prodigal Son”
Great post, Nick. I very much so identify with the older brother. But I think that once we realize that we have played the part of the younger brother, and that without Jesus we would still be the younger brother, we, too need to be patient and forgiving like the Father. Much of what you have to say sounds like what Tim Keller has to say in his book, The Prodigal Sons. I'm beginning to see that so much of Jesus' ministry was rebuking our (the older brother) self-righteous hearts! Thanks for the post!