Jesus was a master storyteller who knew His audience as well as the condition of each heart. When He presented the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:25-32), tax collectors and sinners in the crowd drew near in order to hear what He had to say, but there were also scribes and Pharisees in the audience who came with grumbling attitudes and critical hearts. Jesus crafted a story that addressed exactly what both the sinners and the religious leaders needed to hear.
We’re probably all familiar with the parable of the prodigal son, and the son who left the father’s house is usually our main focus. However, there are two other characters in the story, and we learn valuable lessons from them. In fact, we can probably each identify with one of the characters—a wayward son, a loving father, or a resentful brother.
The tax collectors and sinners in the audience could readily see the similarity between their lives and that of the Prodigal Son, because he had wasted his life on sinful pleasures and had found himself in the lowest state he could imagine—in a hog pen feeding pigs. He was so hungry he would have gladly eaten the pods he gave the pigs. The only way out of the situation was to return to his father in repentance as a servant because he felt unworthy to be called his son. But instead of shaming and reprimanding him, his father welcomed him home, forgave him, and threw a party for him.
However, there was one person who was definitely not happy that the Prodigal Son had returned—the older brother who had faithfully remained at home serving his father. As he came home from the field, he heard music and dancing. After asking a servant what was going on and hearing that his father had thrown a party because his younger brother had returned, he became angry and refused to go inside. Even when his father came outside pleading with him to join the party, he refused, and what he said to his father revealed what was in his heart. Let’s talk a look at the characteristics of his unforgiving heart:
Anger. This was his first reaction when he discovered his father had welcomed his rebellious younger brother despite all he’d done (v. 28).
Jealousy. He thought his father was being unfair to him. “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends” (v. 29).
Bitterness. “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth ... you killed the fattened calf for him” (v. 30).
Resentment. He resented the fact that his father had never recognized him for his faithfulness but rewarded the disobedient son for simply coming home.
Rejection. He viewed his father’s celebration of his younger brother’s return as rejection of him (v. 29).
Unforgiveness. He focused on his brother’s sins and not on his repentance, saying that he “devoured your wealth with prostitutes” (v. 30).
Disrespect. He wouldn’t even acknowledge the prodigal as his brother but addressed him as “this son of yours” (v. 30).
Accusation. He found fault with his father because he had never given him a party like the one he was throwing for his rebellious brother (v. 29).
Self-righteousness. He saw no sin in himself.
Caustic, Biting, and Piercing Words. “This son of yours … who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes” (v. 30).
Which of the brothers can you relate to the most? Both needed forgiveness to transform their hearts, but only one allowed it to do so. If you have not accepted this gift, ask God to transform your heart today with the power of His grace and mercy.
This article is adapted from the Sermon Notes for Dr. Stanley’s message “Absent From the Party” which airs this weekend on TV.