Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 8)

“Jesus, the True Elder Son!”

(Luke 15:11-32)

 

In this parable, the Father didn’t just welcome the older son back into relationship with Him personally, but wanted him to celebrate with the whole household (with his younger brother and all the rest who were already inside). In fact, the parable ends with the Father outside the party Himself, dealing with His older son who was obstinately refusing to join in the party because of who the Father had allowed into the party. He refused to go in with the Father because the Father’s grace for the wild child who had come home broken and repentant was too much for him. Maybe the older son thought the younger son didn’t suffer enough or long enough, didn’t eat enough of the pig feed to suit him, or maybe the older son thought the younger son had to come apologize to him personally before a family gathering was agreeable. Worse off, maybe the older son thought that only death was good enough for this former brother of his. The older son thought there could be no payment for the shame his brother brought to his family name!

 

The older son’s failure to fulfill his Father’s heart for the Family smacks us in the face. He did not fulfill his responsibility as his “brother’s keeper” by going after him when he was lost in a faraway country; He was supposed to go looking. He was supposed to be the hero of the greatest rescue mission of his time, but instead he stayed home. Jesus even set up these three parables in rapid succession so that you would expect him to go searching for that which was lost! First, the lost sheep, then the lost coin, and now, the lost son. But unlike the first two parables, no one goes searching for the lost son. All you see, is the Father desiring to have Him back Home! No hero!

 

Why? Exactly, that’s the primary point of the whole parable! Jesus is a master teacher!

 

This parable ends with the character of the older son left in tension on purpose. It’s a plot twist that was targeted to hit Jesus’s intended audience right where it counted—in their hearts, in their racism and classism, and in all their religious, self-righteous pride![1] According to Luke 15:1-2, we know that Jesus is telling these 3 parables to a group of grumbling religious leaders. They were mad at Jesus because He had the audacity to show compassion and mercy to tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. Jesus was letting those people come into the party and because they were welcomed, the religious leaders (older sons) would have nothing to do with Jesus! They were very upset, so much so that their bitterness would crucify Jesus because He brought so much shame on them. Like the older son, the way for them to restore the honor to their family name was through Jesus’ death.

 

Amazingly, this parable explains why Jesus had to die. Tim Keller explains, “Jesus’s parable of the lost sons ends in a party-feast that represents the great festival of God at the end of history. Why does [Jesus] speak this way? He does so because there is no better way to convey vividly what it means to live out a life based on his saving work. Jesus’s salvation is a feast [and] feasting is communal by nature.”[2]

 

Jesus died on the cross because He came to earth as the true elder son to do what the older son in this parable would not do, be His brothers’ keeper and bring him Home to the Father. The Apostle Paul explained it best in what is called the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11,

 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[3]

 

Jesus simply said of Himself when He was sitting in the house of a notorious sinner, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”[4] This really upset the religious people because eating with someone in their culture was an offer of friendship. Jesus came to not only rescue us, but to invite us into a loving family relationship.

 

Again Jesus would say to the religious people about why He came, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”[5]

 

Jesus was inviting the Pharisees and the scribes as well as the tax collectors and the sinners of His day. Jesus is inviting the religious and irreligious alike, the moralists (good boys and good girls) and the rebellious (wild ones) of our culture today. Jesus did not make distinctions in His invitation based on anything we can see or know about another person. Jesus, our true elder brother, came with an invitation to the greatest family reunion in human history!

 

Jesus came on a rescue mission, to seek and to save that which was lost, to rescue people so that they can be with God the Father. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where someone is being held by enemy forces and needs to be rescued? Don’t you feel like cheering when the person is rescued and is able to go home, safe and secure. Maybe it’s “The Princess Bride” and you experience the great romance of the rescue. Or more soberly, it’s “Saving Private Ryan” where they are safeguarding the only son back to his family. Maybe it’s “Unbroken” when Louis Zamperini is first liberated from a POW camp and then later rescued from his PTSD, hatred, and alcoholism. Maybe it’s “Schindler’s List” where the Jewish people are yearning for freedom and release from the sheer horror of the Holocaust. They are waiting to be rescued. Have you been rescued? Do you even feel the need to be rescued? What do you need to be rescued from?

 

Jesus came to set us free, to heal us, to deliver and rescue us, to restore us back to the Father and be with His Family. And then Jesus passed the baton on to us—to carry on the rescue mission of seeking and saving the lost! His job is now the job of His Church, the body of Christ! We are to follow Jesus’s example and invite all people to come Home and belong to the Father’s Family through the true elder son’s efforts to pursue them and make a way for each of us through His atoning death on the Cross and His victorious defeat over death. We participate in God’s great romance for His children, by being coopted into His rescue mission!

 

Jesus is inviting you! He is inviting at the heart level for each of us to come and party with Him. As we see in the last book of the Bible, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”[6] Remember, the invitation to dine with someone in Jewish culture is an invitation to friendship. This is what we are each to have, a growing friendship-type relationship with Jesus.

 

Jesus wants you to join Him in the party and not just any party—the greatest family reunion in human history. And you can be a part of it. It’s going to be awesome!

 

In 1 John 3:1, we experience the depth of what Jesus has done for us, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.”[7] Through the true elder son’s sacrifice on the Cross, victory over death, and open invitation to dine with Him, we each are invited to experience what it means to belong to the Family of God, to be Home with the Father. As Jesus Christ said of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”[8]

 

Christians are simply people who have been rescued by Jesus and are on our way to the greatest party in human history. We are not there yet, but every day brings us closer. On the journey to the Family Reunion we are to practice how to party Heaven’s way while we are still on the earth.

 

We didn’t deserve it the day we were invited and we still don’t deserve being a part of the greatest family reunion ever. Our purpose is to invite everyone to join us at the party. It’s not our place to make distinctions on who should be invited. Our faith is made visible in our words and deeds to invite others to belong to God’s Family and to treat them in such a way that they want to BELONG.

 

Church, let’s be on mission with Jesus by showing people the way to the greatest family reunion in history. Let’s help them know that they BELONG here because God loves them and sent His Son Jesus for them to BELONG to His Family! You have a place where you BELONG!
 
 
Listen to it here.

 

FOOTNOTES:

 
[1] Otherwise the parable could have ended with verse 24 and the homecoming and restoration of the younger son. Instead, Jesus reveals the real purpose of His parable by continuing on in verses 25-32.
 

[2] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008), 119, 121, 139.

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 2:5–11.

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 19:9–10.

 

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 9:12–13.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Re 3:20.

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 3:1.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 14:6.


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