Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: The Lost Prodigal Son and His Lost Self-Righteous Brother

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Lost Prodigal Son and His Lost Self-Righteous Brother

“11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:11-32).

At the first reading of this text, we would surmise it is about the son who left his father’s home to live a life of sin and squander his inheritance on riotous living. That is certainly an important part of this parable, but it is not its focus. The central point of Christ’s parable is about the “elder son,” the older brother to the Prodigal.

In this parable (as well as the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin), Christ is answering the question on the minds of the Pharisees revealed in verse 2. The question involved why Christ would associate with sinners and eat with them (something no Pharisee would ever consider doing out of fear of defiling himself before God).

“1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. 3 And he spake this parable unto them {the whole crowd, but addressed specifically to the Pharisees and Scribes}, saying,” (Luke 15:1-3).
In these three parables (the lost sheep, the lost coin and, the lost son), Christ tells us His purpose for coming to this earth and, in doing so, He is going to tell believers their purpose and ministry in life. He is going to do so by using this parable to rebuke the Pharisees murmuring around him and the Pharisees of Christianity of all succeeding generations after Him.

The name “Pharisee” carries a unique meaning to Christ. In fact, Christ historically redefined the meaning of the words “Scribes and Pharisees.” Read the following portion of Scripture and see if you can discover the word Jesus uses to define what the words “Scribes and Pharisees” meant to Him.

“13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. . . 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell” (Matthew 23:13-15 and 23-33).

The issue of the three parables is about seeking the lost. However, some people are more lost than others are (Matthew 23:15). Interestingly, it is not the person living in deep sin that is the most difficult to reach with the gospel of salvation. It is the self-righteous person. It is the person trusting in dead externalism and religious ritualism. This is Christ’s message in these three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and, the lost son.

The reason why it is extremely difficult to bring the self-righteous person to repent of his “dead works” (Ritualism and Moralism) is because religious externalism gives people a form of godliness. They are deceived into thinking they are right with God when the truth is, their trust in their own self-righteousness and religious rituals disgusts God. It is this trust in self-righteousness and religious rituals that Christ condemns with the word “hypocrites.” Christ frequently condemned religious ritualism and dead externalism. Christ speaks of this often in the gospels.

“39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).
The religious externalist searches the Scriptures to find the commands of God because he thinks by obeying those commands he can please God and earn salvation. However, the Scriptures that have power to give eternal life are those Scriptures which “testify” (martureo, mar-too-reh'-o) of Christ. This means the Scriptures that lead a person to the way of salvation are the Scriptures that lead a person to the Christ of God and the finished work of the Cross and away from trust in Ritualism or Moralism. Yet the religious externalist is so locked up in his thinking, he will not even open his mind for a moment to the truth of the gospel. This person is closed to the gospel because he thinks he is already right with God and on his way to Heaven. This spiritual closed-ness keeps the religious externalist lost in his own condemnation (the moralist’s spirit is closed to the truth of his condemnation).

Throughout His ministry, Christ sought the conversion of all kinds of people. However, the most difficult to convince of their need of the Saviour were the self-righteous religionists (Luke 15:1-2). In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Christ is emphasizing that God the Father is actively (not passively) seeking those lost in the darkness of sin. He loves them and seeks for them in whatever state of life and degeneration they presently live in.

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

“Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10).
In Luke 15:11, Christ begins to bring the truth of God’s (the “father” in the parable) love and desire to see all men saved (even the Pharisees) by illustrating two kinds of sinners professing to be believers, but who are both really lost.

1. The prodigal son (verses 12-22) who comes to the end of himself and repents
2. The self-righteous, unforgiving brother who is filled with resentment towards the father and bitterness towards his brother and refuses to repent because he is blind to his own self-righteousness. Christ uses this self-righteous brother to represent the religion of the Pharisees.
The prodigal son rejects his father’s authority and direction in his life to live life the way he wants to live. He gets on the roller coaster joy ride of sin. A joy ride of sin always ends with the sinner in the pig pen with the pigs living like the pigs (to the Pharisees a pig was an unclean animal to which they equated all common people and the such as Jesus was trying to win to Christ).

When the prodigal son rejected his father’s authority and will for his life, he steps out of the circle of truth, out of the realm of the father’s blessings and provision and, into the realm of darkness and chastisement (verse 14). As a Jew, he had compromised his life to the lowest degree. Today, we would equate this with the children so willful they would rather run away from home, live in the gutters and abandoned buildings, prostituting themselves for food and drugs just so they will not have to live under the authority of their parents.

He is called the prodigal son because he wasted the wealth of the life he had with the father to live a life of squalor and sin in order to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. However, we find a great truth about the person fallen into the depths of sin that we do not see in the person fallen into the depths of the sin of religious self-righteousness. The prodigal finally “came to himself” (verse 17). That means he recognized what he had become and the wrong he had done against his father and his father’s name and repents.

The prodigal sons of this world are easy to see. They are easy for the self-righteous religionist to point their critical fingers of accusation. Their lifestyles are ungodly and condemned of God. It is easy to look on them with contempt rather than pity. They deserve what they reap from their lifestyle choices. God does not see them the way the self-righteous Pharisee sees them. God looks on them as deceived and lost. God looks on them with compassion not contempt, mercy not criticism.

The elder son represents the Pharisees in deeper sin then the Prodigal (Luke 15:25-32).

The elder son represents the religionist or self-righteous moralist. He represents the pretentious hypocrite that calls himself a Christian. His life is clean and white on the outside, but inside he is filled with corruption and the deadly sin of self-righteousness. He goes to church regularly. He faithfully participates in all of the religious hocus-pocus. When all of his dead externalism is over, he walks away from it all just as full of “dead men’s bones” as the dead externalism of his religious ritualism, but now he feels good about himself.

What Christ is saying in this parable is that the worst kind of sinner and the most lost kind of sinner is the self-righteous religionist who trusts in his religious externalism and ritualism to be right with God. Christ taught another parable very similar in scope to condemn the self-righteous Pharisees and their trust in their rituals and religious works.

“9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke 18:9-14).

The sins of self-righteousness and trust in ritualism are just as vile to God as the sins of the prodigal son. The prodigal son “came to himself” and repented. The example of the elder son is that he does not come to the end of himself and so never repents. The elder son goes through life thinking he is right with God when he is as lost as lost as anyone can be lost. He is in for a rude awakening when he finally stands before God’s Throne of Judgment.

“21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).

To the religionist who trusts in his own righteousness and his religious rituals to get himself to heaven, God has a simple message, repent. It is not the man-kind of righteousness that can get you to Heaven. It is the God-kind of righteousness. A person cannot achieve the God-kind of righteousness and he cannot earn it through good works or participation in some hocus-pocus religious ritualism. The only way to get God-kind righteousness is by a gift of God’s grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on Calvary.

“1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:1-4).

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

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