Two alternative names for this parable could have been “The Parable of the Angry Elder Brother” (the attitude of much of the church today) or “The Parable of the Loving Father”.
Note that the son was a “SON” first before he became the “prodigal son”. This implies that Jesus was not talking about an unbeliever that receives salvation for the first time, but about a born again believer that went out from his father’s house to live according to the desires of his flesh. Then when the son beat himself up and grovelled in self pity and guilt about how unworthy he was, thinking his father was going to punish or reject him because of the sins he had committed (does this sound familiar?), note that his Father did not love him any more or any less. In fact when he returned home his Father didn’t even want to listen to his confession, but simply overwhelmed him with kisses and affection flowing from His heart of love.
We sometimes forget that God has already forgiven all our sins (past present and future):
2 Cor 5:19a …that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them… (NKJV)
He is always on the edge of ambushing us with another wave of His goodness. It is not our confession of mistakes that “restores” God’s approval of us – we were already reconciled with Him over 2000 years ago when Jesus took our punishment on Himself and He has been pleased with us ever since. By putting our faith in God’s grace, we become partakers of all the benefits of the New Covenant including a new born again nature, having the person of the Holy Spirit living inside us, as well as healing, deliverance, blessings, life, wealth and much, much more!
This parable also illustrates that born again believers can live subject to the laws of this world if they live in unbelief of God’s promises. It is actually possible to live like a pauper in the house of a King! Yes God has given us precious promises in His Word, but we have to believe in them to receive them. Bad choices and our refusal to believe in God’s goodness and His attitude of favor towards us may have dire consequences for us in our lives here on earth:
Gal 6:8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (NKJV)
This corruption refers to suffering loss in the natural realm. If we sow to the flesh we will not have our minds renewed, not walk in the promises of God (because we will persist in unbelief) and not live life to its fullest in our Father’s house.
Gal 4:1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. 8 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. 9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. (NKJV, emphasis added)
When believers begin to see that they have been truly set free from the law (including observing the Sabbath and all the other commandments), it will not only stop them living like beggars in bondage to the elements of this world, but also bring about a divine sense of royalty – not an arrogant and prideful “I am better than others” attitude – but an inner realization of their true identity: “I am a citizen of heaven and my Father is the King of the universe.”
However, even if we do stumble into what the world sees as some huge sin (the prodigal son spent half of all the money his father had on sleeping with prostitutes and consumed everything on his fleshly lusts) there is still grace upon grace for us from God.
Rom 5:20b But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. (NKJV)
“Older Brother Syndrome”
Like the older brother, fellow believers may choose to judge a backslidden Christian for the things he / she has done, but God will never judge His children nor be angry with them ever again according to the covenant He made:
Isa 54:9 For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. 10 For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has mercy on you. (NKJV)
Just like many Christians today, the older brother, when he saw his Father showering love on a person that didn’t deserve it, became angry and resentful. This is what being under the law does to a person. The legalists work and work their backsides off for God and think that He owes it to them to bless, love and approve them in return. Look at the elder brother’s words:
Luke 15:29 Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time. (NKJV)
Just like many people today grade their relationship with God by how well they manage to obey the law, the older brother thought He could earn His Father’s approval through his own level of obedience. And then when God blesses someone that didn’t deserve it (“grace” is giving someone what they don’t deserve), the legalists become angry and jealous and hate that person. Instead they should realize that none of us deserve any of it anyway and just get over it and get happy!
Luke 15:25 Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. (NKJV)
Right now, this is what’s happening in heaven. There is music and dancing in our Father’s house! It should actually make us wonder how so many churches can be so dull, introspective, reserved, conservative and religious on Sunday mornings…
Let us therefore praise God for His grace and bask in His presence daily so that our minds will be renewed and we can start doing the works that Jesus did. And most important of all: Don’t forget there’s a party going on in heaven! God is pleased with us in spite of our mistakes. He is happy! He is secure in His love for us! He is in a good mood!