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The Lost Brother

David Himes

Luke 15: 11-32
Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. "When he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men. So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  "The son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  "But the father said to his servants, `Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.  "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  `Your brother has come,' he replied, `and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, `Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' "`My son,' the father said, `you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" [NIV]

This is the story of two brothers; one was lost, but was found; the other served the father, but was lost. One brother lived a life of riotous and sinful living. He left his home and lived a life for wine, women, and song. The elder brother stayed at home. He worked hard and presumably lived an honest life. One wallowed in the sins of the flesh; one wallowed in the sins of the spirit. One was a gross sinner; one was a subtle sinner. Both brothers were sinners in the sight of God for what they failed to do. We don’t hear much about the elder brother. We however, like to teach about the younger son. Maybe one reason is that he reminds us of ourselves.

Do you ever come by a passage in the Bible that reminds you so much of yourself? You may have read it fast or skipped over it entirely. We often overlook the fact that the older brother may reflect ourselves even more than the prodigal son.

Another reason we don’t study the story of the elder brother is that we like happy endings to our stories. We like them when "they lived happily ever after". I like watching TV shows that has a logical solution and everything is worked out in the end. Well in this story, it doesn’t work out that way. We would like this story to end where the family lives together and everything is worked out. But that is simply not the case here. This story is told by Jesus to point out that the Pharisees were as full of sin as the elder brother. He was as full of sin as the younger son who took all he had and spent it on riotous living.

There are four good lessons here that we should study. These lessons will help us learn more about the way that we should be.

The love of our brother.

I ask you this morning: Do you love God? Are you willing to measure your love for God by how much you love your brothers and sisters? We must measure the elder brother's love for his father by his love for his brother. We must measure our love for the Heavenly Father by our love toward our brothers here on this earth. If we must have a measuring rod to show how much we love God, then here it is. I believe if I asked each and everyone here today, do you love God, I believe each of you would say, "Yes, I love God." Be truthful. Some may be actually lying; some may be actually deceiving themselves into believing that they love God.

1 John 6
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. [NIV]

The elder brother wanted to be his father’s son, but did not want to be his own brother's brother. The Bible teaches us that if a man goes around saying he loves God, but we know he hates his brother, we know he is a liar or he has deceived himself. Some people have deceived themselves to believe they are followers of Jesus without believing that they are their brother’s keeper. This is one of the problems we have in following God today.

Here the older brother comes in from the field and he hears the music and the sounds of the festivities. He finds out that his brother has returned back home. I would have suspected that his brother would have rejoiced and said, "Praise God. My little brother has come home. I know he has been doing all those terrible things but now he is home and safe again." This is the reaction we would think the elder brother would have. I could imagine the brother being happy and he would not begrudge his father for over doing with the festivities. "We have that fattened calf that we have been saving for such a special event. Lets kill it and have a feast to celebrate this occasion."

But did that happen? No. The Bible says that he was resentful. He was jealous because his brother had come home. Why do we think he was resentful and jealous? One reason is that he had been staying at home and working in the fields. His brother was out there having a good time. He was jealous that he wasn’t out there himself. That is the problem with people today. A lot of people today are jealous because they are not out there sinning, but they are doing the things that they consider to be righteous.

We must be careful not to lead a prayer that goes something like this: "Lord please bless us few who come here this day while the many are out there enjoying life." We can sense the jealousy that is spoken here. What we really mean is, "I would like to be out there, but I’m not. I need to be here but I really would like to be out doing those fun sinful things."

We cannot be right with God, if we are wrong with our brother. The Bible tells us that the elder brother is jealous and resentful of his brother when he comes home. Are we feeling some anger over some past event? Are we nursing some grudge over someone who has done us wrong? You may think you have the right to do so, after what they have done to you. Is that right? No!

This elder brother thinks, "I have a right to hold a grudge against my younger brother." The Bible does not say that he has the right to do that. In fact, he is depicted in an unfavorable light because he was holding these feelings in this heart toward his brother. It was not the right thing to do.

Serving God is no substitute for fellowship with God.

Here is another lesson that we can learn from this story: serving God is no substitution for fellowship with God.If there is anyone who served his father, it was this elder brother. In fact, he is out there working in the field when he finds out that his younger brother has returned. We will find out that there is no harder worker than this brother. However, serving God is no substitution for fellowship with God. This is a lesson for everyone who is a member of the Church should learn. It is possible for us to work, it is possible to serve, and it is possible to obey the commandments and still be out of fellowship with God. Check your attitude as you do these things.

The elder brother is a model worker; there is no doubt about that. I am sure that the elder brother, as he stayed home, was perplexed about his brother actions. He may have wondered why his brother had gone away from home. But then again, he noticed that the crops were doing great. Even the servants were doing well. He had more on his table than he ever had before. He probably thought that they were doing well and he did it all while his younger brother was gone. He was probably wondering why his father was so sad. His father was going around moping and sad, while all his hard work was exhibiting great results.

Why did the elder brother fail to understand his father’s sadness? It was because he could not understand his father’s heart. He thought that having a big crop, and having great possessions would keep his father happy. I want to ask you something. Is God all that excited about Church buildings and property? That doesn’t excite God. What excites God is people who are lost that find their way home. People who are being brought to Christ excite God.

The physical things that we bring to the Lord are not what will please our Father. If that is what we do it for, then it is for the wrong reason.

A person says, "I give 10% of everything I make to the Lord". But why does he do that? Some will say, "Because it pays to serve Jesus". Let me tell you something and please listen carefully. We are giving to the Lord because we feel that it profits us to serve Jesus. We could call this a "slot machine religion". What do we do with a slot machine? We put some money in so that we can get something out. If we are serving God with the hope of getting something out – then we probably don’t have a good relationship with God.

Here is a brother who is working hard and putting a great deal of effort into the fields. What does he think when his brother comes home? He does think that he has not been paid enough because he says, "You never killed the fattened calf for me." In other words, he says you just aren’t giving me enough.

If we come here on Sunday morning, Sunday evening and again on Wednesday evening, and we attend all the Church activities with the sole hope of being taken to Heaven for eternity, then we have developed a "slot machine religion." It is a legalistic religion that just is not going to get the job done.

It is a privilege to serve God. It should give us a joy to serve God. We should be glad to be able to serve God. Yes, I believe it does pay to serve God, but fellowship with God is what pleases Him.

There once was a preacher that had been with a congregation for a long time. He was heard saying, "They let me go, after all the things that I have done for them." How sad and what a pity. He should have done these things for Jesus not for the people of the congregation and certainly not for himself. Maybe that is why he was let go. He preached on what to do instead of why we should do it.

Folks are to serve God, but serving God is no substitution for fellowship with God. The Bible says if we give a drink to another in need – we will not lose that reward. We did so out of kindness toward others. How many of you married folks would work harder for your spouse, if he or she lost a leg, or lost their sight. Would it not be harder for you to live with that person? But, you would do it anyway. Why, not because of some legalistic condition that started when you said you would love them through sickness and health, for better or worse. But, you do it because you love them. When you love the Lord, then service is not a chore.


A self-centered life is going to take away your joy. This elder brother was so miserable because he was self-centered. Read Verse 29 and count the personal pronouns.

But he answered his father, `Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.

He is so ate up with himself; he is so self righteous and so full of self-pity. The ironic thing is that he had everything. The father said, "All this is yours." "You can have the full inheritance", but he missed the joy of having his brother home again.

What concerns me is that we can work so hard for the Lord and miss the joy that comes with having a fellowship with the Father. We might be teaching a Bible class and miss the joy of teaching the kids. We may become so self-centered in thinking that no one else can do the job as well as I can. We may cut the grass, or clean the building, or some other good work, and we may wonder what do we get out of this. Often there is no recognition in serving the Lord. If people just knew the joy that is received in serving out of love for the Father. We may not get the accolades, but we do it anyway and Jesus knows it.

There maybe reasons to bicker and complain, but this is not so when we have full joy of fellowship with God. We don't have to be jealous of any other Christian. We see God has enough to give to all, as they need. Even the 5 Billion people that live on this earth. There is abundance in the Father’s house.

What makes the Father happy? In Luke 15 verses 7 and 10 Jesus says: "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." [NIV]

We cannot accept the father’s joy until we accept the father’s burden as well. I cannot understand the elder brother. There is an empty seat at the table. He sees his father’s pain. But, he doesn’t understand his father’s heart. Why didn’t he understand his father? I believe it is because he didn’t spend any time with his father. He was out working the fields, doing the chores, but he never spent time with the father. One of the reasons we don’t have fellowship with our God is because we don’t spend time speaking to Him. We are not going to feel the pain or share with the joy until we spend time with the Father.

Do we say: The reason I’m not out there winning souls is because I’m too busy serving Him? Why don’t we stop it? Quit it and work with developing a fellowship with God? Learn the Father‘s heart and then we can be in the Father’s house and enjoy the fellowship. There are people out there hurting, but it doesn’t bother us because we are too busy working. We don’t understand why God is unhappy – it’s because we don’t understand His heart.

There is a need to be here at Church. I am sure that seeing us here pleases God. But what makes our Father sad? What will make Him happy? Coming to Church - - and bringing someone with us. The return of one lost soul to the Father, winning one soul to Christ, and strengthening the faith in our new brothers and sisters will make God happy.

How many times has it upset us when someone responds to the invitation and we have to stay here a little bit longer? Are we upset when we are late leaving the building? Do we wish that those wanting to be baptized would wait until Monday or Tuesday? I tell you, there are prodigal sons out there that need to be reached. I’m thankful that the elder brother was not the first to reach the younger brother when he came home. Aren’t you? He probably would have chased him away. He might have said, "If you go in there, father is going to whip you. You better get out of here while the getting is good."

What is the worst type of sin?

Which brother was the worst sinner?Some sins are more easily hidden than others are. The younger brother had open sins. They were there for all to see. But, the elder’s sin was hidden. If you have studied Romans chapters 1, 2, and 3, you know that Paul speaks of the open sin, the hidden sin, and then states that there is no difference between them. Not all bad people are outside the Church. Some people can be wicked with the Bible in their hands. We can cover it up with great knowledge or fine culture or long prayers, but it will be found out.

It is what's inside that counts.Some people try to hide their sins, but they deceive themselves. They do not deceive God. Remember when the elder son comes home and refuses to come inside? Remember the father came out to get his son. You see he doesn’t play favorites. He was happy for his younger son’s return and he was saddened by his elder son’s behavior. Our Heavenly Father does not play favorites either.

I wish I could say that this story has a happy ending, but it does not because the elder brother is still outside. We cannot have our Father’s love if we don’t love our brother. Do you see how we can relate with the elder brother? Do you see why we can easily over look the sin of the elder brother? I hope this lesson will help us see the sin in our own lives.

In summary, here are some guidelines drawn from this story.
Do not serve the Lord without knowing why we are doing it.
Serve out of love not duty.
Never allow ourselves to have self-pity over our sacrifices.
Rejoice when a sinner returns to his Father.
Spend time with your Father and get to know Him.
Don’t hide your sins, and do not deceive yourselves.
Worship our Lord out of love.


If you have never accepted the gift of the Father, we are ready to show you what you need to do. If you have seen the error of your ways, as did the prodigal son and wish to correct the manner in which you are living, we stand here ready to help you. If you are living in error and need to confess your sins in a public way, please come as we sing this song of invitation.


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