Keller's outline, my sermon.
The Elder Brother
Introduction: THE STORY DOESN’T END WITH THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL! Almost half of the story is about the older son. The story is about two sons, who are both alienated from the father, who are both assaulting the unity of the family. Jesus wants us to compare and contrast them.
The younger son is “lost”—that is easy to see. We see him
shaming his father,
ruining his family,
sleeping with prostitutes, and we say, “yep, there’s someone who is spiritually lost.”
But Jesus’ point is that the older son is lost too. Let’s learn from the text:
1) a stunning new understanding of lostness,
2) what the signs of it are (so we can recognize it in ourselves), and
3) what we can do about this condition.
The younger son has assaulted the integrity of the family.
The older son is assaulting the integrity of the family.
By despising the younger son.
By refusing to rejoice with the father in his delight over the brother’s return.
By preferring the father’s wealth to the father’s joy.
Central Issue: the nature of the Father’s heart
1. Younger brother—the father is not even-handed, I will never inherit leadership in this family.
2. Older brother—the father is not fair or just.
1. A stunning new understanding of lostness—verse 28.
““Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be. “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ “But he became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him.”
a. The elder brother would have known that the day of the prodigal’s return was the greatest day in his father’s life.
i. The father has “killed the fattened calf”, an enormously expensive extravagance in a culture where even having meat at meals was considered a delicacy.
ii. The older son realized his father was ecstatic with joy.
b. Yet he refused to go into the biggest feast his father has ever put on.
i. This was a remarkable, deliberate act of disrespect.
ii. …his way of saying, “I won’t be part of this family nor respect your headship of it.”
c. And the father had to “go out” to plead with him.
i. Just as he went out to bring his alienated younger son into the family, now
ii. he had to do the same for the older brother.
d. Do you realize what Jesus is saying? The older son is lost.
i. The father represents God himself, and
ii. the meal is the feast of salvation. In the end, then,
iii. the younger son, the immoral man, comes in and is saved, but
iv. the older son, the good son, refuses to go in and is lost.
e. The Pharisees who were listening to this parable knew what that meant.
i. It was a complete reversal of everything they believed. You can almost hear them gasp as the story ends.
ii. And what is it that is keeping the elder brother out? It’s because: “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed...” (v.29).
iii. The good son is not lost in spite of his good behavior, but because of his good behavior. So it is not his sin keeping him out, but his righteousness.
iv. The gospel is neither religion nor is it irreligion; it is not morality nor is it immorality. This was completely astonishing and confusing to Jesus’ hearers at the time—and it may even be astonishing and confusing to you.
v. Why is the older son lost?
1. The younger brother wanted the father’s wealth, but not the father. So how did he get what he wanted? He left home. He broke the moral rules.
2. But it becomes evident by the end that the elder brother also wanted selfish control of the father’s wealth. He was very unhappy with the father’s use of the possessions—the robe, the ring, the calf.
3. But while the younger brother got control by taking his stuff and running away, we see that the elder brother got control by staying home and being very good. He felt that now he has the right to tell the father what to do with his possessions because he had obeyed him perfectly.
4. So there are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord.
a. One is by breaking all the laws and being bad.
b. One is by keeping all the laws and being good.
If I can be so good that God has to answer my prayer, give me a good life, and take me to heaven, then in all I do I may be looking to Jesus to be my helper and my rewarder—but he isn’t my Savior. I am then my own Savior.
The difference between a religious person and a true Christian is that the religious person obeys God to get control over God, and things from God, but the Christian obeys just to get God, just to love and please and draw closer to him.
2. The Marks of this sort of Lostness—verses 29-30.
a. Some people are complete elder brothers. They go to church and obey the Bible—but out of expectation that then God owes them.
i. They have never understood the Biblical gospel at all.
ii. Grace is a stranger to them.
iii. They have developed a GOSPEL OF SIN-MANAGEMENT.
b. Keller: But many Christians, who know the gospel, are nonetheless elder-brotherish. Despite the fact that they know the gospel of salvation by grace with their heads, their hearts go back to an elder-brotherish “default mode” of self-salvation. Here’s what the elder-brotherish attitude looks like. It is:
i. A deep & abiding anger (v.28—“became angry”). Elder brothers believe that God owes them a comfortable and good life if they try hard and live up to standards—and they have! So they say: “my life ought to be going really well!” and when it doesn’t they get angry. But they are forgetting Jesus. He lived a better life than any of us—but suffered terribly.
Sources of Anger with God.
1. God didn’t answer my cry for help—innumerable stories of desperate prayers in childhood to heal a brother from leukemia or to save a sister from an abusive uncle. GOD DIDN’T ANSWER, SO I DON’T BELIEVE.
2. Younger brother conflict produces even more anger (good things happen to bad people rather than to good people like me!)
3. Jesus offers grace: will you be transformed or grace destroy you.
a. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo.
b. Jean Valjean vs. Inspector Javert
c. Valjean, the thief, finds grace and forgiveness from God. His life is gradually transformed into the pursuit of justice and grace.
d. Javert, who has arrested, tracked, and sought his punishment for years, discovers that Valjean has truly become a just man, a good man.
e. the Inspector traps Valjean, but then cannot rightly arrest him, because he is mesmerized by the thought that an irredeemably evil criminal can become a good man, one deserving of mercy.
f. Javert the police inspector can arrest Valjean, more, he must arrest him because the Law requires him to do so - Valjean was on the barricade and is therefore a traitor deserving death; but Javert the moral judge witnesses the absolute goodness in the redeemed convict at the sparing of Javert's own life and that of another, and therefore must not arrest him, or else he must question his own moral judgements.
"Javert is faced with the situation where to act lawfully would mean to him acting immorally."
g. Valjean, embodying the perfect moral dilemma for a man like Javert, shatters the rigid codes by which Javert has governed his own life - and at the breaking of those behavioral dictates, Javert finds no other course but to kill himself. His worldview cannot tolerate even the notion of redemption, and as such, it has no room for mercy, nor grace.
h. the Inspector steps backward into the Seine and drowns; he chooses to die rather than arrest the man he has obsessively pursued for decades. JAVERT CANNOT HOLD BOTH IDEAS IN HIS MIND AT THE SAME TIME: THIS MAN DESERVES JUSTICE & THIS MAN HAS BECOME JUST.
i. God’s grace has destroyed Javert.
ii. A joyless and mechanical obedience (v.29—“I’ve been slaving for you”). Elder brothers obey God as a means to an end—as a way to get the things they really love. Of course, obedience to God is sometimes extremely hard. But elder brothers find obedience virtually always a joyless, mechanical, slavish thing as a result.
1. Elder brother—I’m still angry, I’ve done what you’ve asked, get off my back.
2. Superficial obedience to get God off my back.
3. Similar to the younger brother, the elder brother just wants the father to leave him alone, to be away from him.
4. I filled out the small group signup, leave me alone, etc.
a. I will be there at the starting time, don’t ask more.
5. Elder brothers can morph into self-loathing life.
a. You don’t love yourself, but at least you know it.
b. Jesus offers you something more.
iii. A coldness to younger brother-types (v.30—“this son of yours”). The older son will not even “own” his brother. Elder brothers are too disdainful of others unlike themselves to be effective in evangelism. Elder brothers, who pride themselves on their doctrinal and moral purity, unavoidably feel superior to those who do not have these things.
From my blog…
Yes, those of us who are broken younger brothers are not mystified by the behaviour of our older brothers …but it does hurt to be around their resentment. I'm VERY grateful for the father's forgiveness but the older brother is so distant and cold.
iv. A lack of assurance of the father’s love (v.29—you never threw me a party). As long as you are trying to earn your salvation by controlling God through your goodness, you will never be sure you have been good enough. What are the signs of this?
1. Every time something goes wrong in your life you wonder if it’s a punishment.
2. Another sign is irresolvable guilt. You can’t be sure you’ve repented deeply enough, so you beat yourself up over what you did.
3. Lastly, there is a lack of any sense of intimacy with God in your prayer life. You may pray a lot of prayers asking for things, but not sense his love.
v. An unforgiving, judgmental spirit. The elder brother does not want the father to forgive the younger brother. It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel “I would never do anything that bad!” You have to be something of an elder brother to refuse to forgive.
3. What we can do about this spiritual condition.
a. Notice that the parable doesn’t end, it merely STOPS.
b. Second, we have to see the shocking nature of the gospel.
i. Jesus ends the parable with the lostness of the older brother in order to get across the point that it is a more dangerous spiritual condition.
1. The younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but
2. The elder brother did not.
a. If you tell moral, religious people who are trying to be good, trying to obey the Bible so God will bless them—that they are alienated from God, they will just be offended.
b. If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor;
c. if you don’t know you’re sick you won’t—you’ll just die.
ii. Moralistic religion works on the principle, “I obey, therefore God accepts me.”
iii. The gospel works on the principle, “I am accepted by God through Jesus Christ, therefore I obey.” These are two radically different, even opposite, dynamics.
iv. Yet both sets of people sit in church together, both pray, both obey the Ten Commandments, but for radically different reasons. And because they do these things for radically different reasons, they produce radically different results—different kinds of character.
1. One produces anger, joyless compliance, superiority, insecurity, and a condemning spirit.
2. The other slowly but inevitably produces contentment, joy, humility, poise, and a forgiving spirit.
v. Unless a person and a congregation knows the difference between general religiosity and the true gospel, people will constantly fall into moralism and elder-brotherishness.
1. And if you call younger brothers to receive Christ and live for him without making this distinction clear, they will automatically think you are inviting them to become elder brothers.
c. Third, we have to see the naked vulnerability of Jesus.
i. Jesus is addressing his mortal enemies, the men who will soon kill him. …He’s talking to those who want to kill him and telling them that they are lost, that they fundamentally misunderstand God’s salvation and purpose in the world, and that they are trampling on the heart of God.
ii. But at the same time, he is also being so loving and tender. When the father comes out to the older brother,
1. that is Jesus pleading with his enemies. He is urging them to see their fatal error. Jesus does not scream at his enemies, or smite them, but lovingly urges them to repent and come into his love.
2. And so we have a foreshadowing of that great moment on the cross when he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This love toward his enemies made him vulnerable and cost him his life.
3. On the cross, instead of blasting his enemies, he lovingly took the penalty of their sins on himself. While we were his enemies, Christ died for us (Rom 5:10).
iii. Knowing what he did for us must drain us of our self-righteousness and our insecurity.
1. We were so sinful he had to die for us.
2. But we were so loved that he was glad to die for us.
3. That takes away both the pride and the fear that makes us elder brothers.
1. “I am lost because I am so good.”
2. I have the favour of God because of who God is.
3. God finds me useful, even restoring me to himself.
4. God finds me fascinating, He loves me with an EXCESSIVE, a PRODIGIOUS LOVE!!!!
v. The END of the Story…
John MacArthur—ends the parable…the elder brother hates the father so much for being unloving, that he seizes the father and kills him.
Transition to prayer and communion…
Marriage Supper of the Lamb:
The Son is our host and our meal.