Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Non-series Sermons by Year 2021 Sermons . No Greater Love . No greater love (Part 7)

. No greater love (Part 7)





We continue today with our 7th part in this series which is commonly known as the “parable of the prodigal son.”  We have chosen to call it the “parable of a loving Father” as it is the loving father who as a picture of God is continually at the centre stage. No wonder Ogilvy in his book on ‘the parables’ entitles his book the Autobiography of God. We have seen Jesus in this parable putting the Father on display in a way that is totally and radically a paradox of what the Pharisees and Scribes would expect.


We have had one point in this series so far which was our focus on the younger son and how he relates to the Father. We saw his shameless demand, shameless revolt, shameful repentance, the shameful reception and then the shameless reunion. The Scribes and Pharisees so far and sadly so, still do not get it that Christ is portraying their relationship to the Heavenly Father and the reason Christ eats with sinners in this story. This Father is so unlike their understanding of the heavenly Father and sadly they are so unlike the one they claim to have as Father as well.


Today we continue with our second point and that is the part of the story where we see the relationship of the older brother to the father and the younger brother in the story.


2. The older son.


Luke 15:25-40 (ESV) 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”


One of my frustrations in preparing this next part of the sermon series is the disagreements amongst many theologians on the status of the elder son. Some say that he represents hypocritical Christians based on the statement: ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours’, while others say he was unsaved. John Mac Arthur, a well-known theologian claims that he was not saved at all, as the Pharisees were unredeemed.


Let me make a few comments that will helps us to sort all of this out and to arrive at a happy medium. Something we must remember is that this parable is addressed to the Pharisees and Scribes. At the end of the day Christ wants them to see themselves in the older brother. We must not lose sight of the fact that this parable was pre-cross, pre-Christianity, pre-Christ alone, pre-faith alone and pre-church. So, I do not think we can simply fall one side or the other that easily. The Pharisees and Scribes were part of Israel, they were Jews, so they were part of God’s elected nation. On the other hand, all humans have in a sense walked away from God as the prodigal did. The sinners with whom Christ ate, most definitely fitted that category. All humans are daily recipients of the common graces of God.


So, I think that when it comes to the older son, there is a kind of a dualism here. There are those in the church and those outside of the church that can identify with the older brother whether they are truly Christians or not. Many years ago, I preached in a church where I was student pastor and I announced in the morning that I was going to tell the people that evening who the most dangerous people in the church are, and I announced their surnames upfront. I told them that it is the ‘Standers’. Needless to say, that we had a great attendance that night and the two Stander families that we had in the church were both there. That evening I preached on the ‘binnestanders’ (Afrikaans for insiders) who were actually ‘buitestanders’ (Afrikaans for outsiders).


So, while I believe that John Mac Arthur might be correct in implying that they were not saved, the challenge goes out equally to many people in the church who either as believers or unbelievers display the same attitude and theology as the Pharisees and Scribes. We must never forget that it was to Peter that Jesus said: “get behind me Satan”. So, not all is cut and dry as far as a final judgment on their status is concerned. It is a parable and not a theological discourse, so not all issues are answered. So, let us unpack the story and see where we end. In the meantime, I will pretend that both are in mind at the end of the day, and I will leave the judgment to God whether people who behave in such a fashion are truly saved or not.


So, back to the story.


Finally, the Pharisees and Scribes can identify with somebody. This Father has just done shameful thing after shameful thing. The younger son did shameful things, but now we meet a young man who according to them can keep his head high. He acts the way they would so they can see themselves in him and identify with him. Let us unpack the story.


Verse 25 says: 25 “Now his older son was in the field,…”


He was not working in the field; he was in the field. As a landowner who was protecting his part of his estate, he would be sitting in the field making sure that all the servants work and do what is right. In fact, noblemen in the Middle East did not usually work. That was somehow beneath their dignity at a certain point.


Something interesting in the story is that the Father did not send any servants to call the brother. In their day, the older son would have been the event organiser. Culturally the father would have handed the organisation of the party over to him. Now remember, they slaughtered the fattened calf, which means that a few hundred of the villagers were there. They are there to give honour to such a loving gracious merciful forgiving reconciling father by joining him in welcoming his son back, but nobody bothered to tell the older son.


Why would Jesus in this story leave him in the field for a while? Why did the Father not send his many servants to go and find the older son? Again, the father acts in a shameful way. I believe Jesus wants them to know that this son is as much a prodigal as the other, and still is. This son has no relationship with the Father despite His closeness to the Father’s home. The father also knows that this brother has no interest in the younger brother, and he had no interest in the Father. When the younger son demanded his part of his inheritance, Christ does not cause the older one in the story to stand up and to protect the Father’s honour. No, he gladly accepts his part of the estate.

One thing that always boggles my mind is why this story is commonly called the “parable of the prodigal son” and not “the prodigal sons”? Something most miss in this story, is that the one son was in a faraway country while the other son was in a faraway field. Their farm must have been huge, or they had multiple fields all over the show. They both returned home, but they both had a vastly different experience upon arrival.


Now, put yourself in his shoes and in the shoes of the Pharisees and Scribes. Verse 25 goes on: “and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.” Jesus turns up the heat more and more in the story. These Pharisees are experts at honour and shame, and now it is absolutely shameful that this son has to hear music and dancing without having known anything about it. Just think if you were to arrive home at night from work and there is cars all over the pavement and in the driveway and there is music coming from inside the house, and as you enter there are kids sitting all over the lawn outside eating cupcakes. As a family member of note, it is quite justified for him to have his nose out of joint.


At this point I believe that Christ wants them to know that this is illogical, just as much as the Father’s behaviour is illogical to them. They do not understand divine grace, they do not understand the Father Heart of God. They do not understand the depth of the Father’s love for mankind, and Jesus rubs it in. Why would God in human flesh spend time with sinners, and then throw them a party?  The prodigal son makes no sense to them, they resent the unholy son. They see him as the opposite of their own self-righteous selves, and they think the father is some kind of a fool for shaming himself in the way he treats this simple son.


But finally, they have somebody they can identify with, somebody who knows what honour is. This son is just like them. He is unforgiving, legalistic, no concern for the brother’s joy, no concern really for the Father’s joy, no real love for either, except for what they can mean to him. He pretends to stay in the father's house, to be dutiful, to do what the father says, to hang around, to get what he wants, to get approval and affirmation and wealth and land and community prestige. He wants to appear as religiously committed to his father and their home. On the outside he upholds all the conventional modes of external honour. But, he is nothing but a typical Pharisee, and the father left him in the field.


So, he arrives and he hears  (sumphonia) and choros {khor-os'}. We get our words symphony and chorus from these words. But literally it means music and a band of singers and musicians leading a dance. In those days, the men danced in a circle, men only, and there was clapping and singing. So, here is this party, and the fattened calf has been killed, cut up into chunks, and this they would cook in the bread ovens. No T-bones, fillet, or rump for them. The meat will be continually cooked for hours and the singing and the celebrating would go on into the night as this wonderful celebration took place. By the time this son arrives it is a full-blown party. This son is stunned, he is shocked, he is surprised, he is confused and above all he is suspicious. This is one of the marks of legalists. They are always suspicious particularly when it comes to joyful and free people.



To add to the older brother’s confusion. An event like this never happened spontaneously. It normally took months of preparation, like a wedding feast or the expected visit of an important person. So, here is the biggest event that the family has probably ever organised, and he does not even know anything about it. And remember, effectively it is his calf as the estate has been divided.  This is simply another outrageous act of the father, and remember, Jesus is designing the story with intent. It is just simply shameful that this event can happen without his knowledge.



Now, if this older brother did not behave like a Pharisee, he would have stormed into the house, run to his father, find out what was going on, rejoice that his brother was back and he would have hugged his father, and led the dance. That is what his father did and after all, it was his father who was dishonoured and not him. That is the mind of the Pharisee. They have no concern for the honour of others. They act like parents whose unmarried child falls pregnant and they have no concern for the child or the coming grandchild, it is all about them and their reputation. This young man has no love for his father at all, but he has a love for himself and his reputation. It is all about him and his property and his reputation and his prestige. That is why Pharisees prayed on street corners, made sure that everybody saw them giving and made sure that everybody knew that they were fasting. Just like our Muslims today, right? My shop is closed on a Friday between 12 & 2, you will see me kneel even in public three times a day, you all know when we fast, but it is all external.


So, we read further then in verse 26:26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ The Greek word here for servant is paidoun which actually means  “child, boy or girl, infants and then it can mean a  servant, attendant or a slave”. It is actually more likely that he called a young boy. All the guests would be inside, and the servants will be taking care of them. On the fringes of the event, you will find the young ones, hoping that they too get a taste of the meat. They literally enjoyed nothing but fringe benefits. So, this older brother to the dismay of the Pharisees and Scribes has to find out from a young boy what the party was all about. For all intents and purposes, he now receives the greatest news ever. That brother of his, who went off to Gentile Land, has come back and the response of the father is now seen in this event, because his son has come back safe and sound. His heart should have leapt for joy.



But sadly, Church family. That is the Father Heart of God. That is not the heart of a Pharisee. Pharisees look down on others, Pharisees are unforgiving, Pharisees love to micromanage others, and Pharisees want you to be like them so that they can receive the glory for what you have become, to their honour. Pharisees want to see you suffering for your evil deeds. Pharisees want you to work for your place of honour. Pharisees nit-pick based on their man-made laws, culture, and traditions, as they do according to Matthew 23:24 (ESV) 24 … strain out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” They are pompous, self-righteous, stage parading, holier than thou, judgmental, self-absorbed individuals who are as lost as the prodigal son.


He knew his father loved his brother, but that did not concern him. He knew his father was broken for his brother, but that did not concern him. He knew how his father looked out for his brother, but that did not concern him. He knew how his father suffered the agony of rejected love, but that did not concern him, and he knew just how his father cared for his servants, and that he could expect this kind of behaviour from his father, but that did not concern him. His father acted exactly the way we would expect him to, but the Pharisees condemned this behaviour based on their laws, their traditions, their legalisms, their prejudices, and preconceived ideas.


Church family, for time sake, I need to wrap up here today. Are we maybe identifying ourselves with the older brother? Do we live for others, do we love others, do we desire the salvation of others, do we laugh with them and weep with them or do we weep when they are laughing and laugh when they are weeping? Is our greatest concern in life ‘self’ or are we able to say with Paul today from Galatians 2:20 (ESV) 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”


If it is no longer “I”, then I will enjoin my heart with that of the Father and I will love what He loves and hate what he hates, and my primary concern will be to see sinners come home, to see sinners restored, to see fellow brother picked up. One of my favourite verses in the Bible will be as seen in Galatians 6:1-2 (ESV) 1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”


And what is that law? It is Love. No Pharisee is an expert at real, unconditional, and forgiving love.



Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church: 24 January 2021