03/10/2012 – The Extravagant Father
Recently, I received fresh revelation on a scripture that I’ve explored many times. The story is about a father, a younger son, and an older son. The story is described in Luke 15:11-31. Take some time to refresh your memory with the story. While there’s nothing particularly profound in the language of this story, there are deep things to be discovered in pondering.
To set the stage, Yeshua (Jesus) is addressing the Pharisees and scribes as the target of the story. While the story is often traditionally focused on the younger son, the story of the older son is an indictment and the thrust of the conviction. The story begins with a response to a complaint from the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes.
Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
The revelation I received is that this story is about two covenants. The older brother represents the old (Mosaic) covenant. The younger brother represents the new (Messianic) covenant.
Here are some insights focused on the younger son that perhaps you haven’t considered yet:
- For a Jewish son to demand his share of the estate while the father was still living would have been a great insult (as it would be today). It would be equivalent to saying “I wish you were dead so I could have your money.” Think about how shocking this was to hear for his audience. Think about how you would have felt as a parent.
- You probably already know that pigs were considered unclean animals (haunt of demons). Did you ever wonder how pigs got that way?
- The pods were known to be carob pods, which were rather tasteless but provided basic sustenance during a time of famine. How often, do we turn to the temporary things of this world to try to satisfy us?
- How did the Father see the younger son? As unclean and demonized with the lusts of this world? Surprisingly, when the Father saw the younger son, he didn’t see the filth, the perversion, or the uncleanness. He saw a son. He saw his potential to be reconciled to love and to have new life as a son as part of a family. This reveals the heart of the Father. The Father felt compassion for him, ran towards him, embraced him, and kissed him much. The expression for “embraced him” is actually to “fall on his neck” which means to place your head upon someone’s neck weeping with joy. The scripture 2 Corinthians 5:19 reflects this perspective (“in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation”).
- In the Jewish culture, the fattened calf would have been their best animal (there normally would have been only one), saved for a very special occasion or time of celebration. The scripture in Hebrews 9:22 instructs us that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. Here’s an interesting thought. Where was Jesus in the story? Was Jesus the fattened calf slaughtered to make a way for the younger son to be restored to love and relationship (a covenant meal)? Perhaps the story simply showed what the Father was doing in response to the question being asked (to bring home that which is lost to love and relationship). Perhaps the story is pointing to the finished work completed as part of the new covenant, with the blood of Jesus making the loving relationship possible. Perhaps the story is pointing to the coming time where Jesus became the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
- There has been much said about the robe, the ring, and the sandals, but a simpler explanation would be having a profound experience that you belong, you are loved, you have authority, and you are family. Don’t we all need this experience? Do you experientially know that you belong, are loved, have authority, and are family?
- How much did this cost the Father? In the Greek, that which has been translated as “wealth” is the Greek word “bios” meaning life (Luke 15:12,30). As a father in the story, he would have had to give up his life (only son) in order to provide the wealth to divide and distribute between us. He was willing to give everything (his estate) to reconcile, and have loving relationship with us.
As said, the thrust in the story was exposing the hearts of the self-righteous. Both of the sons were lost. What can we learn about the heart of the older brother?
- Why didn’t the older brother go after the younger brother? Didn’t he love his brother? There is no love expressed through religious works.
- He was unwilling to celebrate the restoration of another. There’s a place to celebrate in the saving of another, in someone going from death to life and becoming reborn. Religion and moral conformity keep us from being able to love one another. He judged the younger son as being unworthy of being celebrated or being restored. How often do we fall into this with our hearts?
- The older brother became angry and embittered. Why? Obviously his focus was upon himself and his own works. The value of his estate would have been reduced, or so he thought. The older brother never received the grace of God, because His righteousness was based on his own works. Hebrews 12:15 – “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
- The older brother didn’t acknowledge his younger brother as being legitimate, calling him a “Son of yours.” The older brother didn’t want to have his reputation sullied by being associated with “sinners.” Was he lost in his place of pride?
- The Father is trying to bring the older brother into a place of repentance (coming home). The older brother is a slave to the law (old Mosaic covenant). He says in Luke 15:29, “Look! For all these years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours.” This is what being a slave to religion, rules, and moral conformity look like. Where was his heart? Did he love others? Did he truly love the Father, or was it about what he thought he could earn through following the rules?
- The Father tells him in verse 31,“you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” There’s a message for all the religious older brothers. The Father’s crazy extravagant love and provision have been available through the asking and the receiving as a free gift through the love and one-time life sacrifice of Jesus.
To conclude, the story answers the question that the Father does indeed receive sinners and eats with them. Jesus as the Son, did what the Father did. The story is about an extravagant Father (prodigal means extravagant), revealing his nature and love for us. Both of his sons were lost. The younger son was lost in the lusts of this world, the older son was lost in religion, responsibility, and duty. Through relationship, the younger son found love, forgiveness, and joy. The older son was lost in religion and had yet to find his way.
How have we made the kingdom of Heaven more like being around older brothers instead of being loved and accepted in relationship?
Jesus shared this story to illustrate what God is like and that there is an invitation to loving relationship and being identified as a family, not a religion. Regardless of which son we most resemble, there’s an invitation to come, be embraced, kissed much, and treated like a son or daughter as part of a family.