It incenses people who play by the rules that someone would receive God’s grace after living such a wasteful life. It really shouldn’t make moral people angry and bitter when immoral people turn to their only saving hope. The reason that it does is that we become proud, envious, and discontented like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.” (Luke 15:28).
The Perspective of the Older Brother
We’ve witnessed similar attitudes in Scripture. Had Nineveh failed to turn from their evil way, God would not have relented. He would have judged them (Jonah 3.10). Of course, they did repent and God did relent. You’d think a preacher would be happy about that, but not Jonah. It displeased him a lot. He became very angry about it (Jonah 4.1). When Peter fellowshipped with Gentile Christians, it bothered the apostles and brethren from Judea (Acts 11.1-3). Even the Pharisees themselves were the objects of this particular parable:
“Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them…” (Luke 15:1–3)
They just couldn’t stand the fact that Jesus received and ate with tax collectors and sinners. They had a disposition which was strikingly similar to that of the older brother. They hated the fact that sinful people were turning from their hopeless lives to Jesus Christ.
The Pharisees complained that tax collectors and sinners were turning to God through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are Pharisees in every generation. They hate it when sinful people repent after living sinful lives. They are unwilling to be happy about it. There are two important characteristics of the older brother which provide powerful lessons for us:
1. He was angry about the father’s reception of the younger brother.
2. He was unwilling to joyfully participate in his younger brother’s return.
Verse 28 makes it plain: “He was angry.” His father tenderly pleaded for his oldest son to join the feast celebrating his younger brother’s return. But all the older son could do was remind his father of how blameless and wonderful he had been in the past. “Why didn’t his father realize this?” Of course, the older brother did all this because he was filled with envy. He couldn’t be grateful for his brother’s return because of his own foolish pride.
But verse 28 goes on to say, “He was angry and would not go in.” He was unwilling. Nothing would move him from his hatred and rejection of his brother. The Pharisees also were unwilling. They simply viewed themselves as better than everyone else. There are Pharisees in every generation. The hardest people to win to Jesus Christ are those who are self-righteous …those who think they are above it all. Telling someone that their works are filthy rags will not endear them to your heart. But they need to hear it.
The Perspective of the Father
But notice how the father responds to the older son: “Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.”
First, the father was forbearing. He did not utter bitter invectives or become angry with his son. The son was very disrespectful but the father was very loving. Fathers should be this way. Certainly our heavenly Father is. He is very patient with prodigal and Pharisee alike.
Second, the father condescended to his son. He went out and pleaded with him. Lovingly, he reminded him that nothing in all those years had been withheld from him. Whatever the father had was his. But both sons were home, and the father implored the older brother to be grateful not bitter. Fathers must initiate course corrections with their children in the same way. They shouldn’t expect their immature children to meet them half-way.
Third, the father loved his son. It is not as hard to love the prodigal son. He came to the end of himself and humbly returned, willing to take the place of a servant. It is much harder to love the Pharisee. He never is tender and responsive to his father. But the father was tender and caring nonetheless. Would the son give up his self-righteous disposition and come in and celebrate? Our heavenly Father’s heart churns within Him; His sympathy is stirred for the self-righteous and the licentious alike (cf. Hosea 11.8). We should be the same.
Self-righteousness is insidious. It creeps in with pride, envy, discontentment, and many other evils accompanying it. It will cause religious men to justify themselves …to pray within themselves words like that of another Pharisee: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18.11). Those who remain self-righteous cannot be saved.
But repentant prodigals are filled with peace and have a desire to sin no more. They are truly grieved by the direction their lives were going. They never want to return to the cesspool of their former lives. Humility is the recognition that you cannot depend upon yourself but must cling to the grace and mercy of God. All offend the Father every day. The key is to come before Him in abject poverty, willing to take the place of a servant only to be given the privileges of a son.