Two Lost Brothers

Two Lost Brothers


The parable of the prodigal son gets its name from the younger son who squanders his inheritance, comes home repentant, and finds his father full of mercy. This parable is often taught to show that God meets us with mercy and compassion when we obey the gospel or when, as Christians, we repent from sins. However, the prodigal son is not the only lost son in this parable. Each of the brothers demonstrate two ways we can be lost, and the parable overall teaches us how God’s grace is abundant enough to cover all and how His grace should in turn make us graceful.

This Man Eats with Sinners

This parable is the last of three in this chapter. All these parables are tied together by the same point, that God sees sinners as precious lost sheep who He is waiting to welcome as sons and daughters into the Kingdom. These parables were told in response to the remarks of the Pharisees and scribes in Luke 15:1-2.

“Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees instead of teaching sinners the ways of God were content to stand by and judge them. They were full of self-righteous indignation at Jesus simply being in the presence of sinners teaching them. Jesus responds with three parables. That of the lost sheep (vv.4-7), the lost coin (vv.8-10) and the prodigal son (vv.11-32).

The Lost in the World (Luke 15:11-16):

We start this parable with a father, two sons, and a jarring request. We have the younger son coming up to his father and demanding his share of the inheritance. The younger says to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me” (v.12) and it is not long after that the son “went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living” (v.13). Much like an impatient teenager who cannot wait to be grown up, to make their own rules, this young man could not wait for the proper time of the inheritance and wanted to call the shots. He will soon find that being grown up is not at all what it is cracked up to be.

The parable fast forwards some time. How much we do not know only that it was enough time for this man to have “spent everything” (v.14). It is when all the riches of his father are gone that a famine strikes the land. This is the sad end of every person who chooses to live life for themselves. Sooner or later you run out of stuff; out of the pleasures that the world offers. And what happens when it is all gone? A famine. Life becomes dreary and without meaning. And this is because sin, at its absolute best, can only offer passing pleasures (Hebrews 11:25).

We find next that this younger son is not just having to make cuts to the budget, but he is completely destitute. He had squandered every last dime of his inheritance. Now we find that he had “hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country” (v.15) and that he was now “feed[ing] swine” (v.15b). For the Jewish audience this would have hit hard. He had lost everything and now was perpetually unclean due to his work around the pigs. But even worse, he had become so accustomed to the filth, so accustomed to the poverty that the text says that “he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating” (v.16). But this is the way with sin. It takes you further than you ever thought you would go and wears on you until you are doing the things you thought never possible.

To Be A Hired Man (Luke 15:17-19):

But when he came to his senses.” There is no more accurate phrase to describe what happens to a person when they realize they are living in sin and something needs to be done about it. Commenting on this verse Trench noted, “to come to one’s self, and to come to God, are on and the same thing; for He being the true ground of our being, when we truly find ourselves we find Him…” The younger brother had paid the price of his rebellion and recognized his destitute state away from his father.

He realized what a fool he had been. He took his father’s money and ran away to sow wild oats and lose all the wealth. He recalls how “many of [his] father’s hired men [had] more than enough bread” and how he was “dying [there] with hunger” (v.17). He resolves to go back home and to be done with this foolishness of living for himself. He rehearses what he will say to his father to convince him to let him come back. “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worth to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men” (vv.18-19).

This is what he deserved, maybe. Within this reasoning we find the sons repentance. “I have sinned” and “am no longer worthy.” Richard Trench commenting on the sons words here said, “For we may injure ourselves by our evil, we may wrong our neighbor; but, strictly speaking, we can sin only against God; and the recognition of our evil as first and chiefly an offence against Him, is of the essence of all true repentance.” Until that is recognized, we all are merely wallowing in the pig pen.

A Gracious Welcome (Luke 15:20-24)

The son gets up and goes back home with the intent to beg to be just a hired hand. We read “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” His father did not berate him, shame him, punish him. He ran to embrace him full of compassion. This where the parable began to dig at the Pharisees and the scribes, and this is where the parable reminds us of a truth we often forget. That we all deserve to be in the pig pen. But those who recognize that and come to God will find Him like the father in this parable. Full of mercy and grace.

This is because God’s grace is given not because we are good or worthy but because God is good to those who seek Him. This is perhaps illustrated best by a Dennis the Menace cartoon in which Dennis is walking away from the Wilson's with his friend Joey. Both boys have their hands full of cookies, and Joey asks the question, "I wonder what we did to deserve this?" Dennis answers back with, "Look, Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we're nice, but because she's nice."

The son admits to the father his wrong, aptly states what he deserves (v.21). Note the contrast though next in vv.22-24But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.” While the younger son was away from the father, he was a good as dead, lost. And now that he has returned it is cause for celebration because he is found and alive! This is how God views sinners when they come to Christ and how God rejoices when His children repent.

The Lost Brother at Home (Luke 15:25-32)

But all is not happy on the father’s homestead. We now find the other lost son in the text. He is in the field working diligently and being obedient to his father. When we come to this brother all is not well. After the older brother calls one of the servants and finds out what’s going on, We read, “he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.” This anger was not a passing emotion but a “deep seated wrath.” But for what reason did this older brother have to be wrathful with his younger brother?

In essence, the older brother is saying that it is not fair that this wasteful, unrighteous, son of yours gets to come back to his status while I get nothing for my diligent service! Further this older brother represents the Pharisees (and us if we are not careful). Because instead of rejoicing that sinners were coming to God they sneered and passed judgment because they were not “holy” enough.

Blind to Our Blessings (Luke 15:31-32):

Sadly this older brother was “looking for certain definite rewards of his obedience, to the getting of something from God, in preference to possessing all things in God.” He wanted to get something like his brother and that had blinded him to the fact he already had all things in his father’s house (vv.31-32).

It is this point that was lobbed at the Pharisees. This older brother was just as lost at home as the younger was away. The blindness of the Pharisees prevented them from seeing that they were just as much sinners as those they judged (John 9:40-41). They were keepers of the Law, they lived with the Father, and could only focus on what they didn’t have and the fact that others were now coming to share in their blessings.

There is a lesson for us today. For those of us who have already been like the prodigal (outside of Jesus, outside of God’s family) we need to be careful we do not end up like the older brother. Who having taken for granted the father’s blessings became bitter and self-righteous. There is a blessing in knowing that whether we are the older or younger brother the Father’s response is the same when we come to him. He rejoices because that which was dead has begun to live again.

Grace should transform us and in turn make us graceful. This is the implication from the father in the text “we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and had begun to live and was lost and has been found.” If having received God’s grace and we are not changed, or we become so self-righteous like the Pharisees we have not understood God’s grace. The brothers both had the same need and that need does not go away once you are in the Fathers house. But this ever-present need for grace should not discourage us but encourage. Paul in a way shows this in 1 Timothy 1:14-16 in which Paul found abundant mercy so that God’s grace would be demonstrated to those who would believe.

We obtain mercy so that we would be merciful.

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