But 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 15.32
The 15th chapter of Luke is a single parable made of four parts. The first three concern three lost things being found – a sheep, a coin, and a son. The return of every lost thing is accompanied by rejoicing. But the fourth part of this parable is often ignored though it is likely the most important part of the parable and the part designed specifically for those to whom the Lord was speaking. This is the part about the angry son. In all of this parable, everyone is rejoicing – except one, the older brother. He was angry - so angry that he refused to join in the festivities. His father had prepared a wonderful banquet and this son’s anger prevented him from enjoying even a single bite of it.
Why is the older son so angry? The answer is quite simple: His errant brother was receiving more from his gracious father than the older son had ever received by working. He comes in from working in the field, and he hears music and dancing. But the music and the dancing were not in celebration of his faithful labors; they were in celebration of the return of his worthless brother. Both sons had misunderstood their father’s love. The younger son had intended to ask his father to make him a servant in his household. But the father never let him get to that part of his prepared speech. Instead, he immediately called for servants to bring his son the best robe, new shoes, and the family ring, plus they were to kill the calf they had been fattening for a special feast. No doubt, the younger son was surprised by his father’s actions, but instead of refusing such grace from his father, he rejoiced that he was received, not as a servant, but as a son. And in the process, he learned what a great father he had.
The older son had never left home, but he perceived his father the same way his younger brother had: he thought that the father’s blessings had to be earned, so he had been working hard to earn those blessings. Though he was a son, he had been living like a slave. And now, this ne’er-do-well brother was getting what he had never been given though he had worked hard for it. His thought was, “I deserve a feast like this, but it is my worthless brother who gets it.”
I fear that the older brother represents many churchgoers who they prove they are not among the sons of God for they approach the Father as a slave approaches his master. “I have finished my work; now grant me my wages.” They are working for what the Heavenly Father gives to his sons free of charge. And the sight of ne’er-do-well sinners suddenly being received and blessed like favored sons is an irritation to them. They do not believe the Heavenly Father to be truly gracious, so they are irritated whenever He is gracious to the ne’er-do-wells. Grace makes them angry for it makes nothing of all the works they have done in hope of receiving the Father’s blessing.
Find yourself in this parable. Are you among the partygoers? Are you rejoicing with the Father and partaking from His blessed feast for free? Or are you a grumpy religionist who bristles at the thought that those who have not worked as hard as you, felt as bad for their sins as you, gone to church as much as you, or abased themselves as much as you are receiving for free all that you have been working so hard to get. You are one or the other. You are rejoicing in the Father’s grace, or you are seething with anger over those who have received His grace without working.
My advice to the grump is, “Get over yourself. You are as much a ne’er-do-well as the others. Hear the music. Join in the dance. Feast on the Father’s great blessings. The door is open, the music is playing, and the feast is open to all who are willing to take it for free!”