I grew up in a religiously conservative home, so I am gifted at spotting sin. We avoided illicit sex, drugs, and violence, and weren’t allowed to watch MTV or the Simpsons.
Reading the story of the Prodigal Son reinforced my concept of sin—it was dirty, disrespectful, and irresponsible. The father’s grace was magnified in the face of the younger brother.
Not until I understood sin as deeper and darker than disobedience did I realize that this classic parable is about TWO Lost Sons.
The similarities between the brothers are striking. Neither loved their father; they only loved his stuff. The only difference was the way they went about getting it—one by being very bad and the other by being very good.
The older brother, who I once admired as the good brother, was just as sinful as his younger brother. He had the appearance of godliness, but his heart was far from his father. He obeyed, not out of love for his father, but because his heart craved something else.
We all crave a sense of worth. The porn addict finds it on a screen, and the work addict finds it in a paycheck. It’s a shame that it’s common to demonize the former and celebrate the latter. In reality, it’s the same sin at the root.
Had the older brother truly been a good brother, he would have searched after his younger brother to bring him back, regardless of the cost. And he would have celebrated when his brother was found.
In the story, Jesus wants us to see himself as a better older brother.
He’s highlighting that our problem is far worse than the bad things we do; it’s also the good things we do for bad motives. He’s reminding us that the enemy will tempt us to doubt the father’s love, but as an obedient brother, he will endure a high price to restore us. He’s pointing us toward the truth that though our nakedness is shameful, he will wrap our shame in beautiful robes. He’s saying that real satisfaction and joy can only be experienced in the father’s presence, and he will do the work to find us and bring us to God.
We need a savior who will do what we cannot—bring us back to God.
Written by Brian Fisher