Welcome to Recreate Ministry. Our mission is making and growing authentic followers of Christ. When I was a teenager, I thought that following Jesus meant following a list of do’s and don’ts. Although I loved Him, I was very driven by guilt. I felt utterly crushed by my own shame when I would fail. I felt equally proud of myself when I was “doing well” spiritually. I didn’t realize it, but I was basing my relationship with the Lord on my works. As a result, I unknowingly had a sense of entitlement. Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like [a]filthy rags..” (NKJV). And according to Phil 3:9, “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” (NLT).
In the story of the prodigal son, we find the older brother with this same sense of entitlement. Luke 15:25-27 reads, “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back’, he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’”. The first thing we find the older brother doing is working. He was tending to the fields when he found out a party was going on to celebrate the return of his brother.
This infuriated him, “28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
The brother was so enveloped in his own bitterness that he missed the many blessings that were right in front of him.
When Jesus shared this parable, He was speaking to the pharisees. According to Thabiti Anyabwile, “Pride, entitlement and self-righteousness keep him from repenting. If we think we have something to boast about before God, then we won’t see our need for turning to God in repentance”. It’s very easy for us to see that the older brother in the story relied on his own righteousness, much like the pharisees in Jesus’ day. But how easy is it for us to admit when we are plagued with our own pride and self righteousness?
There are some things we should take note of in the brother’s behavior. Firstly, his stubbornness and anger caused him to wallow in isolation. Verse 28 tells us that he refused to join the party. Bob Goff states, “The hidden cost of pride is isolation.”. This was a choice that the older brother made. Everyone was celebrating the return of the prodigal except him.
In verse 31 the Father states, “..everything I have is yours.”. All that the Father had was his yet he sat in bitter isolation. The Father wasn’t going to force him to join in celebration but he gently told him that all he had was his. The son could have had everything-the feast, the celebration, fellowship. But the greatest tragedy wasn’t in missing out on the things the Father was offering. The greatest loss was not being in his presence when he was right there.
Another thing we can see is the older brother was bitter towards the younger one. He couldn’t celebrate with him but he also remembered him by his sins (Vs 30). He believed that he deserved the celebration and his brother did not. This goes back to pride. The older brother couldn’t understand grace. He was living in the mindset that his works should bring him reward and he couldn’t fathom celebrating someone who didn’t live this way.
The sad part is, he couldn’t even identify with him as a brother any longer. In Verse 30 he refers to the prodigal as, “..this son of yours..”. The Father doesn’t argue with him or try to prove a point. He does correct him in his own way in Verse 32, “your brother was dead and has come back to life!”. If we really stop and are honest with ourselves, there’s a chance we can relate to the older brother here. At some point or another, someone has hurt us. Someone wronged us so greatly that maybe the only thing we could imagine for that person was a strong hammer of justice.
But what if God were to extend His arms of mercy instead? And what if that person were radically changed and able to receive blessings from the Lord? Could you be happy for them and rejoice? Or, like the older brother in this story, would you remind God of what they have done and choose to isolate yourself from His presence?
Back to my story for a moment here. I got married when I was only 20 years old. I was young but I thought that I had my life figured out. I would get married, finish school then have kids and work at a job that I loved. My plans changed, though when I realized the man I married was not who he had seemed to be. Right after our honeymoon, he became terribly abusive. After 6 years of abuse, counseling, 2 miscarriages and 3 children, I finally left my husband for the last time.
When I left him, I was broken, alone and at the lowest point of my life. I had quit school years before because he had wanted me to. I had been a stay at home Mom for 3 years. I was living 1600 miles from any person who cared about me. On top of it all, I injured my hand severely and thought I might never play guitar again, which is a huge passion of mine. Everything seemed to be shattered and I wound up homeless staying in cheap motels while looking for a job.
But things didn’t stay that way. I saw God’s love for me in a way I never had before. He provided a job, an apartment and eventually an amazing church where I was able to grow, fellowship and heal from the years of abuse that I went through. Of all the struggles during that time, the most difficult thing was forgiving my ex-husband. For a long time, I blamed him for “ruining” my life. I was a single Mom who was constantly fighting to stay on top of things.
The thing I needed to realize was that I wasn’t just angry with my ex-husband. I was angry with God. I was a good girl who never did drugs, smoked or cheated. I saved myself for marriage. And I was so angry with God that my life turned out the way it did. But even though I was angry, He kept showing me His goodness. He kept providing, kept leading me, kept pursuing me with His love. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (NKJV).
It wasn’t someone beating me over the head or screaming some fiery message about forgiveness that changed my heart. It was God’s love and kindness. I asked Him to help me to forgive my ex-husband and He did. But I had to notice that His goodness was there. I had to open my eyes and see that I was a sinner who needed Him and had free access to His grace.
I think something we could easily miss in the story of the prodigal son’s brother is the Father’s grace for him. Just like the Father went out to meet the younger son, he went out to meet the older one, too (Verse 28). He didn’t wait for the younger son to clean up his act, but he didn’t wait for the older one to either.
God meets us right where we’re at. But it’s up to us to see the blessing of His presence right in front of us. It’s up to us to realize that all He has is ours- even the power to forgive those who have wronged us. My ex-husband remains unrepentant for the abuse he put me through. But forgiving him released me. When God showed His love for me and I realized His forgiveness and mercy in my own life, I was enabled to forgive others.
People will still mess up. Brothers and sisters in Christ will fail us. But forgiving them, whether or not they ask for it-frees us. The older brother could have had that freedom. He could have celebrated and rejoiced. His heart was angry toward his brother and his Father.
We never get an end to this story. After the Father and older brother speak, the outcome is open-ended. If you feel you can relate to the older brother in this story, let me ask you this. What will the outcome be? Will you choose to forgive? Will you choose to see others in the light God sees them in and realize we all need a savior? Or-will you allow pride, self-righteousness or bitterness to cause isolation in your life? I pray that today you choose to see the goodness that is right before you. And that is His presence.
Next week, we will be starting a new series for Christmas called Saga. We hope everyone has a wonderful week.