Luke 15:11-31

  • 20 September 2022
  • Stuart Robinson

SHAP September 18th, 2022.

Our late Queen’s first and favourite Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, famously told the story of a soldier who jumped into the sea from a pier to rescue a drowning child; a little boy who was sinking fast. 

The valiant soldier hauled the lad from the briny and carried him on his shoulders back to his home.

The next day the lad’s parents came looking for the young soldier – and to everyone’s very great surprise – rather than commending the fellow for his bravery and kindness they demanded to know what the soldier had done with the child’s hat

Condemnation rather than commendation!

They were furious. ‘How could anyone be so irresponsible; misplacing a hat, really!!?’, they spluttered as they stomped off.

Churchill’s story illustrates well the folly and tragedy of ingratitude.  

And Luke 15, the text we’re pondering this morning – especially from verse 25, makes a similar point. 

And that is my focus this morning: the older brother.

So, on view is the story of two sons. 

After demanding his share of the inheritance, the younger one leaves his father for dead; the other one, the elder of the two, remained at home and continued to work in the family business.

Did you note that the text tells us (in Luke 15:12) that both sons received their share of the inheritance – and in keeping with tradition the older son (the stay-at-home-son) probably received twice as much as the younger (Deuteronomy 21:17).

That’s right: this older fellow continued to experience all the benefits and blessings of life on his wealthy father’s estate but unlike his father – who readily forgave the younger brother when he returned broken and repentant, his heart (the older brother’s heart) was hard.

He regarded his father’s generosity and grace with contempt and loathing.

Indeed, when he heard that his little brother was ‘back in the frame’, he became angry.

Very angry.

He wanted nothing to do with the celebration his father had arranged.

Indeed, he refused to participate.

He rejected his father’s hospitality, and was disgusted by his father’s mercy and kindness.

And so, the old man went to him

The old man went to him…such grace.

He pleaded with his son to return. 

And this fellow – this older son, responded by accusing his father of being mean and unloving.


Do you see?

He wanted nothing to do with his brother whom he charges with wasting his inheritance on prostitutes; an interesting assertion given that he knew nothing of his whereabouts all the time he’d been away.  

This brother’s focus was entirely on himself; his ‘rights’, his needto celebrate with his friends, and, it would seem, his unsavoury desires.

True – he’d never left as such, but there was a very great distance between father and son.

He may have lived under the same roof as his father, but in his heart, he was far away. 

Very far away.

Now, over the years, I’ve realised that that story is all about me; along with those brothers in the story, I am plagued by a rebellious spirit that is common to all people.

Jesus once said this,

What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean. Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, and murder, unfaithfulness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride and foolishness. All of these come from your heart, and they make you unfit to worship God. Mark 7:20ff.

This heart problem (technical name: sin) – common to all people – disqualifies us from knowing, and enjoying, and worshipping God as he intended. 

Having a heart turned away from God means I am disinclined and incapable of relating to God on his terms – the immediate and tragic upshot of which is that I will never know him as Father, or experience the warmth of his love, and the joy of his forgiveness.

Jesus told his friends the story of the two brothers and the welcoming father to help us understand how much we matter to God.

Like the dear old father in the story, God makes every effort to come to us – to meet us where we are, and to invite us back – whatever the state of our hearts.

The One who told the story – the Lord Jesus, God in Christ, is the key, of course.

In his death and resurrection, Jesus absorbs fully and finally the alienation from God that my sin causes.

He comes to us and says, ‘my precious child, won’t you come back?’

Such a simple question…but the cost of ‘bringing us home’ is incalculable. 

Let me illustrate this and then close with a prayer that you may wish to make your own.

How much we matter to him is evidenced in the lengths – the extremes, to which God will go to bring us home.

And the cost is simply breathtaking.

This past week, as I’m sure you are aware, is the 21stanniversary of the September 11th, 2001 World Trade Centre Twin Towers attack in New York City.

Did you know that just 23 people were hauled alive from the rubble after those buildings had collapsed in on themselves?

I’m sure that for many of us, those horrific scenes still play over in our minds.

And were you aware that it took more than 3.1 million hours of labour to secure and clean the site and then billions of dollars in rescue and compensation costs?

Was it worth it? 

Well, of course. 

People matter. 

Lives matter. 

Each soul is precious, right? 

That is why searchers and rescuers went to such lengths. 

That is why so many first responders lost their own lives in the process:

To be exact: 343 NY City fire fighters; 23 NY City police officers, and 37 officers of the Port Authority.

How much we matter to God is evidenced in the lengths – the extremes, to which God will go to bring us home. 

The cost is unparalleled. 

In the person of the Son, he leaves the throne room of heaven in search of lost people. 

In Luke 19:10 Jesus summarised his ministry thus, ‘the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost’. 

That is, the Messiah, God in Christ – goes to the cross and to death, in order to rescue or save us from the consequences of sin – our sin. 

Yes – as Luke 9:51 recalls, Jesus ‘set his face’ towards Jerusalem. 

Intentionally he struck out for the city where he would be arrested and murdered – for us.

St. Paul stated it thus in II Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Him [Jesus] who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him [in Jesus], we might become the righteousness of God.

So, like the dear old father in the story, God makes every effort to come to us – to meet us where we are, and to invite us back – whatever the state of our hearts.

We’re not told what the older brother eventually elects to do…but we can take responsibility for what we must do.

A grateful response is to quietly say in the silence of your hearts and minds or aloud (even as I’m speaking now):

Thank you, Father, I am grateful for your generosity and kindness in and through the Lord Jesus.

I do turn to you. 

I will trust you. 

Help me to live for you. Amen.

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