Parables of the Lost, Part Four


The Lost Love, Luke 15:25—32

Previously, we read of the return of the lost son.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate(Luke 15:22—24)

Starting with verse 25, the whole tone of the story changes; it is this second half of the story that addresses the immediate context in which it was given. Remember why Jesus told these stories to begin with—

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   Then Jesus told them this parable…(15:1—3a)

He was answering the Pharisees’ comments about some of the people in the crowd listening to Jesus’ teaching.   So at the outset of this section, let’s get clear who each character in the story represents:  the lost son represents the backslider and sinner (outcasts of the Jewish faith in the eyes of the Pharisees); the elder son represents the religious Jew—Pharisees, scribes and other devout followers of Judaism.  They were the ones, according to their reckoning, who had never been led astray.

What we notice about the father is that the father’s love for the elder brother was never diminished by the return of the younger brother.  Yet it was only the father who went out to meet the returning son.  We also notice that the elder brother was as much in need of the father’s forgiveness as the younger.  We often overlook the elder brother, but there are some lessons we need to see in him.

1.  He was a worker, verse 25a

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field.

Whatever else this man was, he was not lazy!  Notice that he was working out in the field while everybody else in the house was celebrating the return of lost son.  These were not his fields, by the way.  He was tending to his father’s business.  He was so busy out there he had no idea what was going on inside his father’s house.  The elder son is a perfect picture of the diligent Christian worker, who loves his work so much, he often neglects to fellowship with the rest of his family.  He reminds us a lot of Martha—

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:39—42)

There are those who would rather work in the fields than sit and fellowship with Lord.

2.  He was faithful, verse 29b

All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.

He may have been faithful to his father and the duties assigned him, but his words betrayed the attitude of his heart.  He spoke to his father abruptly, indicated by the use of the word “Look,” and the word “slaving” hardly describes a loving relationship where he willingly did what his father asked of him.  Yes, he performed his duty, but he was self-righteous about it and viewed it as a burden; something he had to do.  Here is the Pharisee, and here is the devoted Christian who speaks and acts from a sense of duty and takes pride in himself and his good works, even if those good works proceed from heart as cold as ice.  Yes the younger brother was a sinner, but this one is a Pharisee.  It is never duty that compels one to serve Christ; it is love.

3.  He never had party thrown in his honor, verse 29

Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. (verse 29c)

When I read that sentence, I want to shout back at this man, “Did you ever ask?”

In fact, the reason why he never received this was because he never did ask for it, either in his self-complacency or perhaps he never felt like he needed it.  If he had asked, he would have received—

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:11)

It was not his father’s fault that this elder son’s service had been joyless.  John 16:24 makes it clear and puts the onus squarely on us—

Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

How many believers are like this man; struggling in their faith, martyrs for absolutely no reason?   It is honoring to Christ when others look at us and are able to make the same observation the Queen of Sheba made—

How happy your men must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!  (1 Kings 10:8)

Serving the Lord in misery is not at all honoring to Him.  In the elder son we see two great character flaws:  self-righteousness and selfishness.  These two flaws are very common, since we also saw them in the younger son, as well.

4.  He was greatly offended, verse 28

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.

How childish!  The older son refused to go into the party, but the father left the party to come out to see his other son.  Once again we see the great love of the father on display.  Just as he met his lost son, so he meets his disgruntled son.  Was there ever a more poignant illustration of the love God?  His love for one is never diminished when He loves another.

The elder son’s pride was greatly wounded when he thought about the honor being paid to his younger brother; the one who brought scandal upon the whole household; the one who deserved to be shunned, rebuked, and punished for what he did.   And here he was faithful and true, being pretty much ignored.  He lost, for a moment, the love he had:

  • For his father.  His father’s heart was overflowing with joy because his lost, wayward son had finally come home.  The elder son, now the selfish one, stubbornly refused to share his father’s joy.  How cold!  How heartless!  How much like his younger brother, who went out from father’s presence, now this son wouldn’t enter in to the father’s presence.
  • For his brother. If he loved his lost brother even a little, he would have joined in the celebration and rejoiced over his homecoming.  But his love had grown cold, for his father and his brother.  He may have worked and appeared faithful, but it was all a façade, that hid a bitter heart. 
  • For the servants. It seems that the whole household turned out for the celebration and that even the servants were part of it.  The faithful and true servant of God rejoices at what makes God rejoice for God’s heart and the true servant’s heart beat as one.  How can one claim to love God but not love his brother(s) also? 

It begs the question:  Who was the real backslider, now?

5.  He was loved by his father, verse 28b

So his father went out and pleaded with him.

We are very quick to recognize the love the father had for his prodigal son, and rightfully so.  But his love for the one with the prodigal heart is usually overlooked.   Not many  believers physically remove themselves from the Body of Christ, but there are countless believers who, like the older brother, outwardly confess Christ, never miss a service and say all the right words, but live in that “distant country” of sin and selfishness, away from God.  The father was begging his offended son to come and join him in a celebration; to be a part of a family once again.

6.  He was encouraged by his father, verses 31, 32

” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

His father could have—and some might say he should have—scolded his childish and offended son for his unchristian-like attitude.  Instead, he offers him an inducement he could hardly refuse:

Everything I have is yours.

Like the prodigal son, this one was not treated as he should have been treated.  His father showed him love, understanding, and most of all; he showed him the same kind of grace he showed the prodigal.  And, everything is as it was before the younger son left; the inheritance is still in place.  The father’s blessings would not be diminished because the lost one came home.

Notice how tenderly the father addresses his son:  “My son,” literally, “My child.”  But at the same time, he gently reminds him of his self-righteous attitude by saying “this brother of yours,” reminding him of what he called his brother earlier:  “this son of yours.”


The future of this family is left to our imagination; Jesus does not tell us what ever became of these two brothers.  Really, the story has no ending because Jesus intends for us to see ourselves in these two brothers.  Both part of the family, both estranged to varying degrees, and both in need of grace.

The great lesson of the story of the lost son is that the father represents God in all His yearning, agape love.  The lost son in his honest genuine return represents the backsliding sinner who comes to his senses and repents, longing to be restored to the fellowship he left behind.   They also represent the tax collectors and various undesirables in the crowd that irked the Pharisees but who had found in Jesus a Savior and Friend.  And finally, the older son clearly symbolized both the Pharisees and the faithful, just as the 99 sheep did and the 9 coins did.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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