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The Prodigal God

Part 4: The Elder Brother - Religious But Lost

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(3/30) Here is a Question- I want you to respond to? What makes Christianity Ė true Christianity, different from any other faith system in the world?

Answers Ė

1. Grace and Love Ė No other faith system sees God as Grace and Love

2. A Risen Savior Ė No other faith leader claimed that He would die and Rise again and then did

3. Done Ė not Do- Only Christianity says all the work has been done, you just have to receive it as a gift, all others say do this and that and you will earn your salvation.

4. a God who pursues and searches for children to adopt- not a come and find me faith-

The God who pursues Ė adopts Ė

On born March 21st 1995 Ėa little baby girl was born 7 weeks pre-mature and was given up at birth for adoption. But there was a problem. She was unadoptable because she was born with a bunch of health problems that led some to believe she would not survive. I donít know who did it, but someone named her Beautiful Girl. For a year she was in and out of hospitals struggling to survive.

On the other side of the planet, two people began to contemplate adopting a child. This adoption was not the need to have more children they already had 4. It was simply to love a child without a family and to give a home with hope and a future to at least one child. The adoption was expensive though not as expensive as many. A tremendous amount of time and energy had to be spent. Stacks of papers to fill out, classes to take, finger-printing and back-ground checks to be done, home inspections, complete biographies of both parents had to be written. When all was finally complete, a picture and video of this little girl was presented to the parents. "Would you consider this child," the adoption agency asked? "She may have developmental problems, she may be a slow learner. She has had many health problems, but we would like you to consider this child. Here is her medical history. You can see that since you applied to adopt, her health started improving. Will you consider adopting this child? She is not a baby, she is a year old now."

This little baby girl did not ask to be abandoned, or to have the health problems that she was born with, nor did she seek adoption. Others were desiring for her to be adopted. She did absolutely nothing to be adopted. Her new parents did it all. They did everything that the laws of two countries required. They paid the price to make the adoption possible. They had the means to help her health to improve. So they pursued the adoption. Her new parents appeared before the judge in a Baltimore City Court to finalize and legalize the adoption. They applied for U.S. citizenship for their new daughter, and then they notified the foreign embassy, that this child is no longer a citizen of that country, she is a bona-fide American citizen. And the only thing this little girl did was to be born. She was rescued from a hopeless future and given a future with an inheritance. It was all done by the parents who sought to love an orphaned child. She never had to earn her place. There were no rules for her to keep to be accepted in to the family. All that was hoped for was her love in return.

I tell you this because this is exactly what it is like to become a Christ Follower. You are a Christ Follower because God pursued you and then adopted you. We may say things like, "I asked Jesus into my heart," or, "I invited Jesus to be my Savior," or, "I accepted Jesus," or, "I found Christ," or anything like that, but the truth is we did nothing. He is the one who pursued, the one who paid the cost, the one who planned and prepared to adopt you even before He set one star in space. He is the one who sought you, and He bought you with His redeeming blood, because He is the God who pursues and searches for orphans to adopt. If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, it was not because you chose Him, but because He chose you (John 15:16; Ephesians 1:5). Itís not because of what you have done or didnít do, itís because of His own love for you.

And His grace is such that He can and will forgive any offense, and all offenses, if they are repented of in true humility.

What does this have to do with the Prodigal God? Everything! Letís go back and review. Look at Luke 15:1-2

Following a dinner party at a Phariseeís home (14:1), lots of people, multitudes followed Jesus (v.25), many of which were Tax Collectors, like Matthew, had been. These people were despised by their own countrymen, considered traitors, and lower than dirt, because they worked for the enemy and got wealthy by collecting more taxes than were due. These individuals like Zacchaeus were despicable and considered in a class all by themselves. But Jesus never hesitated to have dinner with them as we saw in Matthew 9 and Luke 19. Sharing a meal was a sign of fellowship and friendship. Jesus was a friend of sinners

Along with the tax collectors were other sinners. These were people who had no desire to live by the rules and mores of their country and little use for religion that required rules.

The religious leaders of Jesusí day stayed as far away from such sinners as possible, and the sinners stayed away from them. But not Jesus, these were people that He wanted to be with. So, He went to their homes, and their hang-outs to be with them. Why? Because He was pursuing them to adopt them. When the rule keepers complained about this Rabbi who would rub shoulders with notable sinners, He told them the 3 stories that we have in Luke 15.

Three Stories

One is about a sheep that wandered off and gets lost. Maybe it saw what appeared to be better food, or an adventurous trail, or a butterfly that needed chasing, so it wandered away from the others and ended up lost. And there was the shepherd who will leave the 99 other sheep who kept the rules, and He searches like crazy until He finds it. Why? Because absolutely every single sheep is valuable to the owner or shepherd and he wants to lose none of them. When he finds it, he doesnít scold it, he hoists it up on his shoulders and carries it home, then calls his friends to celebrate the safe rescue and restoration of this sheep. The lost wanderer had been found and restored.

Likewise, the story of the coin, is that this one coin, no matter what the denomination, is important to the woman. It probably was part of her wedding band, not a ring but almost like a head band that symbolized her covenant with her husband. That coin was valuable not because of its exact worth, but for what it represented. Like the time Debbie lost the Diamond from her ring putting g a card seat into our car. It isnít the biggest diamond, but it represented our wedding, and gratefully she found it and was able to have it reset. We didnít throw a party but we praised God.

Both the Shepherd and the woman went crazy searching for this valuable object.

And both were exuberant when the lost was found. Jesus says, "You may not think so, but God is searching, pursuing, going crazy to find lost sinners, and rejoices in a party like manner when a sinner repents." Because as C.S Lewis has said, "there are no mere mortals, just eternal horrors or everlasting splendors."

Third, comes the story two sons. One is a young man who wants his fatherís stuff, but not his father. He is tired of working for and with his father. He is tired of keeping rules. Perhaps he detests the rule keeping of his elder brother. He thinks of what he could do with his fatherís stuff now, the good life he could enjoy if he had access to the fatherís stuff. He wished his father was dead. In an act of total rebellion and disgracing his family, he asked his father for what would be his share. This was a shameful act against not only his father but the whole community. And his dad gives it to him and the young man, having shamed his family, leaves home.

Finally, there are no restrictions, no rules to keep, just freedom. I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want, where I want. Until the famine hits, the economy changes, inflation occurs, the money is gone, he is penniless, and he canít find a decent job. He remembers the good character of his father, and he decides to humble himself, go home and seek a job with his dad. Unwritten is the obvious fact that this father is looking every day, hoping his son will come home. And on the day that it happens, the dad shamelessly runs to embrace his son. Needing to hear only that his son was repentant, the father threw a party, giving to this young man everything he did not earn or deserve. He welcomed him home. Fully restores him. He lavished what seemed to be wastefully to celebrate and restore his son who had disgraced him. This is the story we all know. But this isnít the story. This is only Ĺ of the story. In fact, it may not be the main point.

I. Notice Jesus Gives a New Understanding of Lost-ness.

Jesus was telling these Pharisees that itís not only rule breakers who are lost. Many, many, rule keepers are equally lost. The rest of the story is about the elder brother, a rule keeper, who also despised his father. This was one of the greatest days in his dadís life and he spared no expense to proclaim his joy at having been able to restore this son that had disgraced him. But the elder brother would not come to the party. He is angry because of the party. This wasteful spending and celebration of a sinner. This sinner did not deserve this grace. The older brother felt he deserved the party because he kept the rules.

The father leaves the party to go and urge him to come in. This is as shameful and humiliating as the younger son asking for his inheritance and wasting it. A father deserves respect and should never have to beg his children to be with him. All the elder brother knew is that his younger brother was wasteful, and sinning in a manner that he knew he never would, and then his father wastes his possessions to celebrate the younger brother. Understand, that essentially, this is his inheritance that his father is wasting on this party and this sinful brother. I saw a sweat shirt once that said, "I am spending my kidís inheritance."

Now it is obvious that in this story, the Father represents who? God!

And the younger son represents who? Tax collectors and sinners; and us! The feast represents our salvation and is a picture of a day when we all be at the banqueting table of our Lord. The religious leaders know where Jesus is going with this and were probably getting angry.

But who does the elder brother represent? Be careful here. He represents the Pharisees and rule keepers, but is that all? No! He represents all who trust in their goodness and rule Ė keeping and who refuse to go to the banquet of Godís salvation and partake of His grace.

Elder brothers believe in their minds or in their actions that salvation is earned by being good. For sinners to be accepted they needed to repent and then earn their way back.

In this story the younger brother wanted stuff, and freedom so, He leaves the father to pursue his own life. He breaks all the rules, he commits immorality only to realize his freedom would become his prison. He learned that he canít make it apart from His father.

Sometimes it is all the rules that rule keepers live by that causes younger brothers to get away. They are tired of the rules and those who try to keep them and judge others by whether they keep them. I believe a lot of our children have left the church because of the rules.

The elder brother tries to get what he wants by keeping rules. He really doesnít love the father, he just wants what the father has. Notice verse 29, "All these years I have served you, I never disobeyed you," It wasnít his sins that kept him from the party, it was his righteousness or self-righteousness. He felt as if he could now tell the father how to conduct life. The father should now do his will. I deserve more than the rule-breakers.

So, there are two ways to sin and be your own Lord, perhaps your own savior. One is to be a rule Ė breaker and be bad. Do whatever you want. Itís my life and I will live it the way I want! The other is by keeping rules and being good. If I can be good enough, God has to answer my prayers, give me a good life, and give me heaven. Jesus is, to many of these people, their helper and their rewarder, but He is not their savior. They are by their good works their own savior, or so they think.

Listen carefully, the difference between a religious person and a true Christ Follower is this; a religious person obeys God to earn the right to get control over God and to get things from God. But, the True Christ-follower obeys God just to get God and to love and please Him, and be closer to Him, and to honor Him. Do you understand this? There are churches who teach elder-brother-ism. Pray a prayer and then keep all the rules. Right hair-cut, right cloths, right music, right friends, right Bible, right attendance, right service, right restaurants, right movies, no facial hair, no tats, no piercings, etc. Some believe that the Laws of the Old Testament must still be kept (cp. Acts 15; Galatians, Romans).

II. Signs of Lost Elder Brothers

A. Believe God owes them- These people may begin with a prayer but their obedience and church attendance is from the expectation that God owes them. I deserveÖ. Because I doÖ.. They have never understood grace and the true gospel message. Even many who give mental assent to the doctrine of grace still live in the default mode of self-salvation. Their prayers are all about give me, give me the stuff I want. (Cp. the stories of the Carrot and the Stones, from the book, The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller)

B. A Deep Anger (v. 28, "But he was angry and would not go in"). They get angry when younger brothers come into the family and are received with grace. Grace to elder brothers is earned grace. Younger brothers do not deserve it. I deserve it, because I have been good.

By obeying God, I deserve Godís blessings. When I feel that life isnít going as I hoped or planned, or prayed for, and God hasnít given me what I believe I deserve, I get angry. My life should be better blessed than this. I donít deserve this. This isnít fair, and I am angry. Elder brothers forget that Jesus suffered horribly and He was perfect, why do we expect less?

They also get angry if you suggest that good works isnít good enough. They remind you of all that they do and therefore have earned their place at the table.

C. Mechanical and Joyless-Obedience (v. 29) "I have been slaving, or serving you for years." There is no joy in serving God, they do it, thinking it is the way to get what they want. So, church is mechanical, prayers are recited, service is a necessary means to an end of earning my way up the ladder. There is no joy in a have- to religion.

D. A coldness towards younger brother types (v.30, "This son of yoursÖ") their evangelism and acceptance are only towards those who are elder brother potential types. They feel superior to any other. I was told that people in jail donít deserve grace, and I shouldnít have gone to Russia in 1993 on a mission trip because Khrushchev said he would bury us. They disdain people who are not like them. They pride themselves by what they do and donít do, and they feel superior to all others. "In our church we would neverÖ., in our church we onlyÖ." Like the guy in Luke 18:10-14. 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ĎGod, I thank You that I am not like other menóextortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.í 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ĎGod, be merciful to me a sinner!í 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

E. A lack of assurance in the Fatherís Love. (v. 29, "You never threw a party for me!") This lack of assurance is often wonders if I have been good enough. This manifest itself by wondering, every time something goes wrong in life, if God may be punishing me. Another sign is guilt wondering if you have done enough to earn forgiveness, so you want to beat yourself up. Then there is a sense of a lack of intimacy with God. You ask for things, when you pray and you remind God why you deserve things and you never feel a sense of His love and favor of you. But you seldom pray just to worship and express your love for God and desire to honor God.

F. An Un-Forgiving and Judgmental Spirit. This guy did not want his father to forgive or restore his brother, because he didnít deserve it. The reason is because, "I would never do such a thing!" That person deserves justice and he should get what he deserves, but I want grace. People who refuse to forgive are elder brothers who forget that we are all sinners, and no-one is forgiven apart from grace. Sin is the self-focused, and self-centered desires that originates in the mind and then is manifested in our actions.

III. What can we do about this condition?

A. You have to see the uniqueness of the gospel. The younger brother knew he was lost and needed restoration. He came to himself. Elder brother types do not think they are lost or need grace. Like Wayne told you last week and our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 9, "You have to see that you are sick before you will seek a Dr." Elder brothers think they are okay and donít need a Dr. and are likely to get offended if you tell them they do. Eventually they will die of their sickness that they refused to take to the Dr.

1. They obey God for different reasons. They think, I obey God and have been Good, therefore God must accept me. But True Christ Followers think, God has accepted me just as I am, therefore, I want to be good and to honor Him. Listen to the words, of Paul in Romans 4:1-8 "What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

And whose sins are covered;

8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin."

2. They produce different kinds of character. Elder brother types feel superior, are angry, joyless, insecurity, and a condemning spirit. The other produces, contentment, joy, peace, humility, forgiveness, and more.

We must not fall into the trap of presenting grace only to make elder brother disciples. We must show younger brothers how to love and follow the Father out of gratitude and grace and not to become rule keepers.

Do you remember the story of the woman with a bad reputation and the dinner at the Phariseeís home in Luke 7? She came in and lavished love on Jesus because she had received great grace and forgiveness. But the Pharisee thought he was benevolent enough just having Jesus to dinner, he had no awareness of his sinfulness and showed no honor to Jesus.

B. We have to see the vulnerability of Jesus.

What do you see as Jesus speaks these words? Here he is speaking to the ones who will kill Him. By pointing out their lost-ness, He is showing them that they are tramping on the heart of God, they are breaking their Fatherís heart by refusing to come in to the party. That unless they repent as the younger brother had done, they would be forever lost.

This isnít the only time Jesus used the two sonsí illustration. Look at Matt. 21:28-32, "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ĎSon, go, work today in my vineyard.í 29 He answered and said, ĎI will not,í but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ĎI go, sir,í but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?"

They said to Him, "The first."

Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

But by telling them that the Father went out to the Elder Brother, He is telling them that God is searching for them. God has come to them to plead with them to come into the party of salvation. He is here gently urging these lost religious people to recognize their lost-ness and come to the party. Isnít this a foreshadowing of the cross when He cries out repeatedly for the Father to forgive them for they donít know what they are doing? He could have blasted and condemned these men on the spot but this trilogy of stories is an act of grace inviting these lost religious party to come to God. Jesus died for His enemies (Rom. 5:10), both younger brothers and elder brothers.

Christ died for us because He loves us. He loved us long before he created us. Then in His love He pursued us in order to adopt us. We did nothing but rest in His grace. We must then live our lives the same way. Not to earn anything from God but to honor God for His grace from a grateful heart.

Any younger brothers here? Tired of living apart from the Father? This story is for you. It doesnít matter where youíve been sleeping, the Father is anxiously looking for you to come home?

Any elder brothers here? You have been good because you believe God is interested in rules being kept. You do so because you want to earn Godís favor, not because you love God. He is searching for you. Come home to grace and learn itís not about rules, or even religion, itís about loving the one who died and rose again for you.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman