The 15th chapter of Luke contains three separate stories—a man with 100 sheep who lost one, a woman who lost a coin, and a father who lost his youngest son. In each case, when the sheep, coin, and son were found, there was great rejoicing.
But in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:25-32), the older son was not rejoicing. He was just like the scribes and Pharisees who considered themselves righteous. They faithfully attended synagogue every Sabbath, prided themselves on keeping the Law, and looked down on the sinners and tax collectors.
In the same way, we too may be critical of people who live a sinful lifestyle and make a mess of their lives. Therefore, let’s learn some valuable lessons from the attitude of the older brother before becoming too critical of other people’s sins.
There are two pig pens in this story. The obvious one is in a far-off country where the Prodigal Son ended up as a result of his wasteful, foolish choices. But the obedient older brother was in a hog pen at home because of his sinful attitudes. He thought he was pious because of his external obedience to his father, but in his heart he was wallowing in a pig pen of resentful, self-righteous attitudes.
We can be in a far country without realizing it. A far-off country is anywhere we choose to go outside of God’s will. The prodigal left home to go where he could live as he pleased without any restrictions, but although the older brother stayed home physically, he was still in a far-off country because his heart was filled with antagonistic attitudes. Even though he’d remained with his family, he was miserable and separated from them emotionally. One brother was feeding on pods for pigs, but the other one had a heart full of unforgiveness, jealousy, and bitter resentment toward his brother and father.
The path of freedom from the hog pens of life is paved with repentance and surrender to the will of the Father. The condition of our hearts is not revealed so much by outward religious behavior but by our attitude toward people and God. The scribes and Pharisees resented Jesus for welcoming sinners who desired forgiveness, but in reality, they were in a worse condition because they refused to recognize the sinfulness of their hearts, and therefore, saw no need to seek forgiveness from God. If we want out of the pig pens of life, we must be willing to admit our sin and come to Jesus for the forgiveness of both our sinful behaviors and attitudes.
Have you ever found yourself unexpectedly in the hog pen of unforgiveness and resentment? The good news is that God joyfully welcomes us into His arms, too, when we repent of our sinful actions and attitudes. Turn to Him and enjoy the blessings of His abundant grace and love today.
This article is adapted from the Sermon Notes for Dr. Stanley’s message “Absent From the Party” which airs this weekend on TV.