In the Parable of the Lost Son, we’ve looked at the repentance of the prodigal son and the compassion and love of the father. That leaves the final character in the parable, the older son. I’ll start with the parable to refresh your memory of the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“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. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

Of the three characters, I find the older son to have the saddest story, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. He has been the obedient son. He stayed home and worked for the father during the years that his younger brother squandered his inheritance. Obedience is a good thing. Unfortunately in this case, it’s squandered obedience. The older son had a wonderful opportunity to grow in his relationship with the father during that time, but it doesn’t appear that he did. He clearly didn’t absorb the nature of his father – he showed neither compassion, love or mercy when his younger brother returned home. He was not ready to forgive. In fact, upon learning that the party was to celebrate his brother’s homecoming, he refused to go into the house.

He lacked a servant’s heart, instead using the phrase “all these years I’ve been slaving for you” to describe his efforts. The word translated “slaving” literally means “in bondage to.” The younger brother was enslaved to sin during his years of riotous living. The older son was enslaved to sin of a different kind. He had become a slave to his sense of duty and his belief that it was his own efforts that would earn him his father’s inheritance. He served his father out of obedience, not out of love. He was obedient out of duty. He viewed himself as working for his inheritance. What a drudgery those years must have been!

But there’s an even sadder element to his story. Read again the words of the father:

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
Luke 15:31 (NIV)

“Everything I have is yours.” The son had at his disposal all that belonged to the father and he never availed himself of it. He didn’t even realize it was his.

Friends, our heavenly Father says the same thing to us “Everything I have is yours.” Notice the words “everything” and “all” and “all things” in the following verses:

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done…19And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6, 19 (NLT)

2Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
2 Peter 1:2-4 (NKJV)

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32 (NIV)

“Everything I have is yours,” says the Father.

Remember, the parable is an illustration of spiritual principles. The younger son is a perfect picture of willful rebellion and then humble repentance. The father beautifully illustrates the loving and compassionate Father we have in heaven, ready to forgive and celebrate with us. Now we have the older son, who I’m afraid is very much like us sometimes. We so easily fall into the trap of serving the Lord out of duty.

Obedience is important in the Kingdom of God, but it must be obedience out of love for all the Father has done for us and gives us. Obedience out of duty creates in us the same attitude it created in the older son – bitter jealousy.

The Father’s message is “Everything I have is yours.” Let’s not live like slaves but as the son or daughter who has been given the Kingdom.

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