I wish I could tell you that Luke 15 ended at v.24 with the lost son back in the house of blessing with the father enjoying the feast of a lifetime. I wish I could tell you that all was well in the father’s house and everyone accepted the son back into the family even as the father did. But sadly, all is not well in the father’s house and Jesus gives us the rest of the story. Again, keep this in context: v.2 tells us that some of the opponents of Jesus, Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about Jesus eating with sinners. So Jesus told them some parables and is saying in each one of these parables “this is what God is like.” Clearly, the picture of God in the Pharisees and scribes heads was not right; God is a God who extends grace to sinners. And so Jesus is helping these men (and even us) identify with someone in the story in case they were missing the point.
There is a party going on. But not everyone is at the party. The older son of the father is out in the field, toiling under the blazing sun, engaged in his father’s business. And as he is coming near the house he can hear the party: music being played, probably laughter and loud talking, the sound of people dancing, even rejoicing. Why all the ruckus? What’s going on? Why wasn’t I told about this? All these questions he voices to a servant; he keeps it private, not going to the house or his father. And that is how this resentment begins: it begins in the soul, internally. And like the Pharisees of Jesus day, that is how it began – they would say to themselves (5.21, NIV). It begins internally. But, like this son, they did not go straight to the source (the father). They kept it somewhat quiet, asking a servant. Note the Pharisees did the same thing when they would ask Jesus’ disciples (5.30).
The report is given to the older son: “Your brother is alive and found, safe and sound.” Note that the father “recieved” (ESV) the younger son. The word means to receive something (in this case someone) back that you previously possessed. The idea then is that the father took back his possession as his own possession. I suppose it would be like getting a Christmas present containing something that was already yours, that you owned. So overjoyed by this gift, the father killed the fattened calf.
Alas, the older son is furious. Livid. Wroth. And rather than go to the father and express his feelings, he pouts. He stands outside and refuses to go in. But here is the picture of the Father: not only does he run to returning sons, he will go to and meet with the raging ones also. See the father wants all his children at the feast, in the house of blessing. It is a beautiful picture here because the father is “entreating” (ESV) or literally calling out to this son, pleading with him, even as he probably would have pleaded with the son if he had run into him in the big city, to come home.
This son will have none of it. Let’s note the older son’s character for a second. First, he is performance driven (v.29). He marks time, keeps a log of all his work. But that is just it – his work is nothing more than punching the clock. “All these years…” he says. Certainly the Pharisees, who devoted so much time to God and his work, could hear these words from their own mouth. “All these years we have served you deligently; you mean to tell me these ‘sinners’ get to eat from the same table as I?” Not only that, he tracks behavior. “I have served you, I have never disobeyed…you never gave me a young goat.” The self-righteous voice clearly rings out its performance as though it truly amounts to anything. Accusations fly at the father. How often are we guilty of accusing God of injustice! “Why have you not given me this?” We might cry. “I have served you; why do the wicked excel but I languish?” Also, this son is feels entitled to something. He is saying to his father, “you owe me.” For all the work I have done, you owe me something. Certainly all my good works deserve some small reward. But the Father owes us nothing! We are not entitled to a better house, better car, anything. Our righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags in the sight of God. And if we depend upon our track record, we are in dire straights!
This son is relationally distant. That is, he cannot identify with his father. He cannot understand the nature of his father and how he can accept back into his presence this terrible younger son. He does not share in his father’s joy over the return of the lost son. Nor does he identify with the father’s heart and the love he has for this younger son. But over all this, he absolutely refuses to identify himself with his brother. In fact, this brother is still dead to him, though alive to the father.
Finally he is possessions focused. All he sees is the squandering of the father’s property. He sees the father wasting the good calf on this no-good son. Can you hear the voice of Judas: “why this waste?” Here is the character of this son. But take note: despite this massive fault in character, the father still loves him just the same as he loves the returning son.
When I say “soft,” I do not mean the father was soft on the son nor that our Father is soft on sin. I mean this in the sense of Proverbs 15.1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (NIV). Here is the father giving a gentle response to the enraged son. “Son…” this is emphatic in the Greek. He is reminding this older son of his identity. He is also reminding that “…all that is mine is yours.” It was not that his father had held anything back; he has always had access to the house of blessing. Here is the indictment of Jesus on the Pharisees of his day: they had the privileges of being God’s chosen people, with all the blessings God could give from heaven. They had the covenants and the Law (Rom 9.4) and all the privileges and prerogatives that go along with that position. They were sons! Instead of standing out in the cold, enraged at the grace of the Father, they should be in the house, rejoicing that the manifold wisdom of God included others in the house of blessing. Even the vilest of sinners can find grace in the house of God.
Again, I wish I could tell you this story ends “happily ever after” with the father in his house rejoicing with both of his sons, their voices ringing together in rejoicing. But verse 32 ends abruptly with the father’s final words about his returned son: “he was lost, and is found” (ESV). I wish I could tell you that the story ends with the son falling in the arms of the father, sobbing over his poor attitude. I wish I could tell you about any ending Jesus gives this story, but he doesn’t. We are left with the question: did the son repent? And perhaps this was the point of ending it like this. Jesus is leaving the Pharisees to end the story with their repentance of their attitude toward ‘sinners’ and realize the Father’s house is large enough for all returning sinners.
But I do suppose the Pharisees finish the story: God extends the invitation through his Son Jesus and they execute him. The lifeline to God stands before them, giving them the words of life and they refuse to listen and so be saved. Jesus shows them the Father, and they don’t like the picture he paints. Thus, they refuse the invitation and will not enter the house of blessing.