A little over twenty years ago—back in the “olden days” when I was the Youth Minister—shortly after the invention of the wheel—back then we had a church member—a young woman—who was a social worker for Montgomery County. As part of her job she worked with teenage boys who lived in two group homes in our area. Those homes are no longer open.
Some of the guys were there because they had made mistakes in life. Others were there because their parents had made mistakes in life. But whatever their situation, they were all there because they had no other place to go.
Well, Jesus gave this young woman a real heart for these kids. She started leading a weekly Bible Study in the group homes—I was able to go from time to time. Understand, this Bible Study was optional—the boys didn’t have to come but most of them did—and, as we build relationships with these kids—they started attending church. They also became active in youth ministry events including retreats and camps.
I was thrilled by all of this—but surprisingly, sadly—a couple of our parents didn’t share my joy. They began to express concerns about these guys interacting with their children. They feared these “delinquents” could and would be a bad influence on their teens. Their complaints never went anywhere—I mean we never had meetings to deal with it—but if we did I would have pointed out that the kids from the group home were VERY well-behaved. They were completely respectful—always listened to devotionals. And when we went on a retreat if the schedule said, “In your rooms by 10PM” they were not only in their rooms, but in their bunks—teeth brushed, clothes laid out for the next day. When it came time for lights out, I never heard a peep from them—other than some snoring. They never broke a rule—were always on time for events.
They obviously cherished being able to be a part of a youth group—even more than the kids from “normal” families.
Well, the complaining eventually stopped—and a few years later the woman who worked with these young men moved out of the area. When she left we lost our “in” with this group. Anyway, the reason I share this blast from the distant past is because we all have times when we tend to be judgmental of others. Before you disagree—let’s all examine our hearts a bit.
- Are there times when you felt disgust or anger instead of compassion for someone who embraced sin instead of righteousness?
- Have you ever been judgmental toward someone who has made mistakes in life—or is the product of the mistakes of others?
- Do you ever judge believers on the other side of the “political aisle as being the bad guys?”
I bring all this up because in today’s text Jesus responds to the judgmental attitudes of some of the people He interacted with—specifically, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. We’re looking at Luke 15, verses 11-32—and at the beginning of this chapter it says, “The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered: ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
We don’t have time to read the entire text—but I think it’s okay because it is so familiar because this morning we’re looking at a story Jesus’ told called:“The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” With apologies to the HGTV show, I’m changing the name to simply “Property Brothers” because, as you’ll see there were not one but two “prodigals” in this story—and both of them were focused on the property of their loving father. Like the Pharisees who first heard this story, both of these brothers were judgmental—the younger of his father—the elder of his brother—and their father. Well, as I inferred, we all deal with judgmental attitudes from time to time—so let’s see what we can learn from the example of these two siblings.
(1) Let’s begin with Property Brother #1 — the YOUNGER of the two.
Skip down to verse 11 where the story begins and follow along with me. One day this younger son comes to his father and makes a surprising request. He asks for his inheritance—which would have been 1/3 of his father’s property—he asks for it in advance, while his dad is still alive and apparently in good health. Let me give you an example of what this kind of request would be like in our day and age.
My mom turns 89 this fall. She’s doing well for her age and she has made it clear that she wants to remain in her earthly home—until God calls her to our Heavenly one. So—she’s taken her four children’s advice and hired some help—specifically three sisters from the same Mennonite family. They are with her four hours a day—two in the morning and two in the evening. They manage her meds—take her to the doctor—get her groceries, etc. Mom could not stay in her home without their help. And we are so grateful. They are Christ-followers—and take wonderful care of mom. But—even at their low rate, it’s pricey. We’re already having to dip into mom’s savings to cover this expense. Thankfully, mom’s house is paid for—and she’s got good insurance—but in a year or two we may have to sell her home to pay for her care.
Okay with all that in mind, what would you think if I were to say, “Mom, I want some inheritance from you. I don’t care about YOUR care—I want my SHARE before you use it all up. So—take out a mortgage and give me a fourth. I got a sabbatical coming and I want to travel—so get me my part NOW.”
Wouldn’t that be TERRIBLE? Wouldn’t it be disrespectful? Let’s have a show of hands. If I were to do that—how many of you would want to throw rotten tomatoes at me? Anyone feel led to BOO instead of AMEN?
Well, that’s how we should feel when we read this familiar parable for that is exactly what this first brother was doing. He wanted HIS share of his dad’s property now instead of later. With his request he was saying that he cared more for his dad’s wealth—than he did for his dad. Now—I don’t know why he was acting this way. Perhaps he felt like the low man on the totem pole in his household and so he had a passion to make a name for himself. Maybe he was just bored with life on the farm—and wanted to experience all the joys the world had to offer. But for whatever reason—he wanted MORE than what he had.
Well, as you can see in verse 12, for whatever reason, the father granted his son’s SURPRISING request. He cashed out his 401K at the First National Bank of Jerusalem and gave his younger son exactly what he wanted. Perhaps he knew his boy well enough to realize that the only way he was going to learn in life was the HARD WAY. And God is like that father, in that He gives you and me the freedom to accept or reject Him—to follow His guidance or to make our own way in life.
By the way, how are you using that freedom these days? Are you taking advantage of the wisdom God gave us in His book when it comes to the way you spend your money—the way you do your job—-the way you parent your children? Or—are there aspects of your life where you foolishly go your own way? Well, according to verse 13, this sinful son used his free will to take his inheritance and “WASTE it in RIOTOUS living.” By the way, that’s were we get the word “Prodigal” — it means “to waste.”
And, waste is what he did—because the word “riotous” here means “loud” or “wild.” It suggests a life of constant parties—no more rules—anything goes—that kind of stuff. I get it picture of a kid who is tired of all his father’s LIMITING rules—and decides to chuck them all and do whatever he wants. Now some of us might think, “Well boys will be boys! And boys do tend to sow their wild oats.” But I’m enough of a gardener to know that we reap what we so and when we SOW wild oats that is all we REAP—WILD worthless oats. Here’s something else—I can tell you from painful personal experience that whenever I have foolishly, pridefully disobeyed God—well, I have always come back worse than when I left—scarred by sin and feeling like I have WASTED something precious.
If you can relate—would you raise your hand? And don’t be judgmental of any raised hands! We’ve all done that! I appreciate the honesty of you hand raisers! You know that we always pay a PRICE for sowing wild oats—as this younger property brother discovered. Well, verse 14 says that before he knew it his cash was gone. I mean, the “bill” for all his “wild living” was his ENTIRE inheritance. I think his father was very wealthy so we’re talking about a lot of money—down the drain. This is a reminder of the fact that sin is an EXPENSIVE business! Sin is always very costly. When we sin, we always SPEND relationships, health, time—things we never get back again. Verse 14 ALSO says that after he had wasted all his money, there arose a severe FAMINE in the land, and he fell into abject POVERTY.
When this happened, this first property brother lost two other things.
- First, he lost his Far Country friends.
This, reminds me of Proverbs 14:20 where it says, “The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many ‘friends.’”
- This first property brother also lost HIS SELF-RESPECT. You see, when his cash and his friends ran out, he took a job which would be equivalent to cleaning cesspools today.
Remember? He ended up working for a Gentile, feeding pigs—a task that was forbidden to a Jew because the law plainly said, “Cursed is he who feeds swine.”
- But the son sank even lower still. He got so hungry that he longed to eat the pigs’ food and, as you know, pigs will eat just about anything!
Have you ever been there? Have you ever tried to satisfy your thirst at the “wells” of the world?
If you have you know that the more you “drink” the stuff of this world—the longer you stay in the “Far Country” — the thirstier and emptier you feel. Listen. When the Lord is our shepherd, we do not want. But when we forsake Him all we DO is want. His way is always best—always the most satisfying.
Sin on the other hand always promises things it can never deliver.
- Sin never gives us what it says it will.
- It promises FREEDOM but it only brings SLAVERY.
- It promises SUCCESS but brings FAILURE.
- It promises LIFE but “the wages of sin are ALWAYS…the opposite.”
By the way we are always headed the wrong way in life when, like this sinful son, we value THINGS more than PEOPLE—PLEASURE more than DUTY—and the “GRASS” on the other side of the fence more than the BLESSINGS we have at home. Let me put it another way. The experience of this younger property brother shows that us that we can’t enjoy the things money CAN buy if we ignore the things money CANNOT buy.
Well, eventually—the boy determined to go home. He finally realized how stupid he had been. Verse 17 puts it like this: “He came to himself.” He finally began to recognize how CRAZY his actions had been. And that leads to another lesson we can glean from his experience. The fact is ALL sin is really a form of insanity. Anyone would be crazy to give up a relationship with God for the pleasures of this world. We would be foolish to give what we cannot LOSE to gain what we cannot KEEP! But, many times in life we become demented enough to forget this. We delude ourselves into believing that sin is good—that disobeying God will lead us to experience some joy we are missing. And then—only when we hit the wall—only when we suffer the inevitable consequences of turning away from God—do we see our foolishness. I’m reminded of King David who wrote in Psalm 119:67, 71, “God, before I was afflicted I went astray, but now [after I have encountered tough times] I obey Your Word. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees.”
At this point the son did what is SO VERY HARD for SO MANY OF us. He acknowledged his sin. He admitted that he had blown it. He said: “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you.” I think one of the most important lessons in life for us to learn is to be able to say, “I messed up. I was WRONG.”
Admitting your mistakes is a wonderful sign of maturity—but it’s rare. I’ve seen too many adults who excuse their failures—they—WE—get defensive and prideful—we want to be RIGHT more than we want to admit being WRONG. I don’t know if you realize it or not but Elon Musk and his SPACE X company are doing very well. They have already started selling tickets to people who want to get into space—and in spite of the expense—just over $100K per seat—the first flight is already sold out. They’ve also perfected re-usable rockets—rockets that put a payload in orbit—and then return, safely landing on earth so they can be re-fueled and used again. But—they made a LOT of mistakes along the way—and the guys at Space X were willing to admit it. In fact, they recently uploaded a YOUTUBE video SHOWING their mistakes.
Let’s watch a few of their unsuccessful launches and landings.
As you can see they finally got it right—but I admire a man who can admit his mistakes—even joke about them. Did you see the caption after one failure where he said, “Well, technically it did land—just not in one piece.” Well, as I said eventually this first prodigal property “landed.” He came down to his senses and admitted his sin. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t blame others as Adam had blamed Eve or Eve the serpent. He said, “I messed up. I was a fool!”
Let me stop and ask—do you ever stumble in this way? Do you ever start out confessing your sin but end up excusing it? Have you ever said something like this: “I know I was grumpy with my kids but I had a hard day.” or “I know I shouldn’t have gossiped but I just needed to talk to someone.” Or “I know I should have helped my neighbor but I’ve been so busy.” By the way, if you use the word “but” in an apology—it’s not really an apology. Do you know what I mean? Ever do that? Do you ever spend more time excusing your sin than confessing it?
Well, this son didn’t do that. He confessed—and he went one better—He also turned from his sin. Look at verse 20 and see that after confessing his sin as sin, the prodigal “got up and went to his father.” He turned from his sinful choices and headed home. This is a reminder to us that confession isn’t enough. We also have to turn from our sin. We must turn and make a complete break with what has been. There’s a saying in baseball that you can’t steal second base with your foot still on first. And neither can you begin a new future with God with your feet still planted in the past. You have to LEAVE your sin. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses AND FORSAKES THEM will find compassion.”
Well—next comes the BEST part of this story. Apparently the father was always looking for his son to return. Look at verse 20 where it says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.” Before this first property brother could choke out an apology, the father ran and embraced him in joyful celebration. In spite of the stench of his body and the filthy rags he was wearing for clothing, the father held him tight. Then he gave him gifts that were signs of his restored position and authority—not as a servant, but as a full-fledged son—sandals a robe a ring. Note this repentant son found at home everything he had longed to discover in the world he had fled to—jewelry, clothing, food, friends, and celebration. He traded misery for mercy. He found acceptance, not from the fickle friends who deserted him when the money ran out, but from the father who had given him life. How many of you agree this is the BEST part of the story! Anyone want me to rewind and play it again?
Now—have you ever wondered WHY the father ran? I mean, to run as a man back then was seen as disgraceful. It just wasn’t done. There is a one-word explanation for why he cast aside restraint and sprinted in the direction of his son. Call it out if you can guess it.
He ran because He LOVED his son. He loved his son IN SPITE of his sin. Does that remind you of Anyone? Who? RIGHT! God! Our HEAVENLY Father loves us like that. Nothing separates us from His great love—not sin—not life—not even death. Of course, the father in Jesus’ story symbolizes God—and in all of Scripture this is the only time we see God hurrying at anything—hurrying to welcome a repentant sinner back into His presence. I don’t know about you, but this part of the story reminds me of James 4:8 where it says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you—He will run to be near to you!” The fact is our HEAVENLY FATHER loves it when sinners come home. If Heaven has a front porch—God is on it WATCHING and WAITING for each of His children to come home. He doesn’t want ANYONE to perish. So when we do it’s just like it was for the younger brother. When we repent, God “restores the joy of our salvation.” (Psalm 51:12). He “redeems us so that we can receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:5) Don’t get me wrong. God is Holy. He is a consuming fire. But when we turn to Him, He is a God Who comes running—running to lavish His love on us.
And—the glorious news of the Gospel is that no one is beyond His love. You cannot do anything that will keep Him from kissing you and bestowing upon you the robe, the ring, and the sandals. I mean UTTER forgiveness is the only kind of forgiveness that God gives.
Okay—that’s property brother number one—what about the ELDER property brother. And don’t look at your watches. We can’t stop without looking at this part of Jesus’s story because everything we’ve heard so far is actually the introduction. The next part is the REALLY important part. Remember, the recipients of this parable—the people Jesus was talking to—were the RELIGIOUS folks—the OBEDIENT folks—the people who, like the elder brother, embraced the “us” vs “them” mentality and thought of sinners as the OTHER people—the enemies—the people who deserved only punishment.
(2) So—what can we learn from property brother #2?
Where did he go wrong? Well, first, he refused to attend the party—the celebratory feast thrown by his father—and in that culture to refuse your father in this way was VERY disrespectful. But—he wasn’t just guilty of “dissing” his dad—he was also guilty of refusing to feel compassion for his repentant brother. So—if you remember the father represents God—then right off the bat the elder brother broke the two most important commandments. He failed to love his father—and his brother.
Look at verse 30 where he hatefully refers to his sibling as “YOUR son” not “my brother.” He refused to embrace his repentant brother and had obviously not missed him or worried about him. He didn’t care about his brother’s happiness. His only thought was his own recognition. In fact, like the Pharisees and scribes—like you and me at times—this elder sibling was very SELF-righteous because he excelled in keeping the rules that HE defined as important. Look at verse 29 where he told his father, “I have never disobeyed you.” I am sure this was an exaggeration, but the point is self-righteous people are masters at recognizing the sins of others—while being blind to their own. I can imagine this elder sibling secretly congratulating himself on how good he was—especially in comparison to his “bad guy” sibling. As he went about his chores every day—chores his younger sibling used to help him with—he no doubt stewed on how much he deserved for being so good. So, he was very ticked that his brother was being forgiven and welcomed home.
His self-righteousness blinded him to the fact that when it came to taking in the true grace and goodness of his father’s heart and reflecting it to others—he was every bit as abysmally lost as his repentant sibling. I mean, at first, we think the elder brother is the opposite of the younger but if you look closely you can see that he’s not that much different. In fact, both sons are primarily interested in Dad for the property he can be manipulated into giving them. The only difference is their strategy for getting it. The younger tried to get it by asking for it early—the elder by being obedient. Let me put it this way: the elder brother considered the work he’s been doing as SLAVING—not SON-ING. He thought by his obedience he was able to EARN his father’s gracious blessing. Well, have you ever slipped into that kind of thinking—believing that by being good—you somehow DESERVED God’s goodness—that you were BETTER than other people?
In his book, The Divine Intruder, James R. Edwards writes:
“Like many people, I was shocked by the catastrophe on Mount Everest in May 1996 in which a dozen mountaineers perished. One of the most disturbing sideshows in that circus of tragedies was the story of two Japanese climbers who in their summit bid bypassed three injured, starving, and freezing climbers. The Japanese had sufficient provisions to render aid to the stranded climbers, but they did not want to jeopardize their ascent by stopping to assist them. As a result, all three climbers died. Later, when asked why they had not stopped to help, one of the climbers said, ‘We were too tired to help. Above 8,000 meters [26,000 feet] is not a place where people can afford morality.’ The actions of the two climbers and the statement attempting to justify them were, in my judgment, a callous and contemptible example of egoism. On a number of occasions, I retold the story in my preaching and teaching to illustrate the true face of egoistic ethics, base and unjustifiable—and doubly so in the mountains—where the dangers inherent in climbing should make all climbers their brothers’ keepers.
A few years later, while leading a college study tour to the Middle East, I was hiking up Mount Sinai in the darkness before dawn in order to be on the summit at sunrise. The hike up 7,500-foot Mount Sinai is tame in comparison to Mount Everest, where oxygen deprivation impairs physical exertion and judgment itself. As my students and I neared the top of Mount Sinai we were passed by two Bedouins carrying a man down the mountain. The man was unconscious. His sporadic breathing, rattled and gurgling, indicated he was in critical condition. He was, I suspected, suffering from pulmonary edema, a malady of mountaineering caused by ascending too rapidly.
Pulmonary edema is fatal unless the climber affected is taken rapidly to a lower altitude. For a brief moment I considered halting my ascent and helping the Bedouins carry the man down the mountain. But my desire to make it to the top checked my impulse. Without further thought, I gave one of the Bedouins my flashlight and continued upward. They seem to be doing all right by themselves, I assured my uneasy conscience. The sunrise from the summit was glorious, but it was overshadowed by what transpired on the way down. Not far below the place where we had passed the Bedouins, a figure draped with a blanket was lying on the ground. Two shoes protruded from under the blanket. The man carried by the Bedouins was dead. Whether he died while being carried down, or was put down and died, I do not know. I do know, however, that every step down the mountain smote my conscience. What I had found so loathsome in the two Japanese climbers on Everest had been essentially repeated in my own action on Mount Sinai.”
Can you relate? Does anyone feel guilty of self-righteousness—being judgmental—behaving like property brother #2? Well, in the story, the father responded to the sin of the elder brother much as he did the sin of the younger. I mean, in THIS story—there are TWO BEST PARTS.
The same father who RAN to meet the prodigal HURRIED out of the house of feasting to plead with the older son. It is the very same act of closing the distance we saw with the first son.
I said that the father in this story represents God—but the property brothers represent us. We are all prodigals. That’s why Jesus, our elder brother came. He came to seek and save prodigals—sinners like you and me. He couldn’t “wait on the porch.” He came to find us and bring us home.
Communion is a CELEBRATION of this fact. Right now God is inviting us HOME to His table of grace. I love the lyrics to this song by the Sidewalk prophets: Come join the sinners who have been redeemed. Take your place beside the Savior now. Come to the table Come meet this motley crew of misfits. There’s no one unwelcome here. So that sin and shame that you brought with you? You can leave it at the door. Just come to the table. Come join the sinners, you have been redeemed. Take your place beside the Savior now. Sit down and be set free. To the thief, to the doubter, To the hero and the coward, To the prisoner and the soldier, To the young, to the older
All who hunger, all who thirst, All the last, all the first, All the paupers and the princes, All who fail you’ve been forgiven, All who dream, all who suffer, All who loved and lost another, All the chained, all the free, All who follow, all who lead, Anyone who’s been let down, All the lost—you have been found! All who’ve been labeled right or wrong, Everyone who hears this song! Just Come, come to the table! Take your place beside the Savior?
Let’s do that—as Christians—forgiven sinners—let’s come to the Lord’s table and celebrate the forgiveness He made possible on the cross.
Well, let me ask you—after looking at these two property brothers, which brother would you say that are you most like? Perhaps you identify with the younger one. You have rebelled against God and you see your need to return—to Him. Or—maybe this story has shown you your need to be less like the Pharisees and reach out in compassion to the lost of the world. Whichever brother you most identify with I can promise that our Heavenly Father waits to respond to you in the same way the Father in the parable responded to his sons. God is watching for you to come home to him. If you have a decision that you wish to make public—if you want to profess your faith in Jesus or ask to join this church. I would invite you to walk the aisle and share that decision with me as we stand and sing.